Tom Bevan at the RCP blog is having trouble with Steve Schmidt's "strategery" for John McCain. After all, McCain is campaigning in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Iowa – all Kerry States – instead of defending the Bush States in which he's in polling trouble: Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia. Survey says Obama is coasting in each of those States but Indiana, Bevan reminds us, so McCain should be playing defense there.
But the question, as a Republican strategist emailed me yesterday, is why McCain is spending time in states he MIGHT win, when he should be spending time in states he MUST win.
Maybe the McCain camp believes it has to stay on offense somewhere. Maybe they're skeptical of some of the polling that shows them down in places like Missouri, Virginia and North Carolina. Or maybe they feel that if they're going to end up losing those states it's a lost cause anyway.
To be certain, I fault nothing Bevan writes in his post. The economy has the McCain/Palin campaign on the ropes. Obama is not winning this election; rather, the worst economy since forever and ever or the day before has cast a pall on the country. Depressed voters tend to go with the guy least associated with the man in the White House, and it will be tough for Schmidt to get around that.
But how do we answer his questions?
The best political line I've heard this campaign is referring to this crisis as the "final verdict on the failed economic policies of the past eight years," fostered by Bush and supported by McCain. This is laughably nonsensical, of course, but it sounds plausible to the gullible and, when delivered with Obama's cadence, sounds like either the moral to a fairy tale or the punch line of a bawdy joke.
The election will be held in three weeks. Within that time, the economy could stabilize in ways that affect voters' day-to-day lives. (For instance, the price of a gallon of gasoline could fall to something like $3.19/gallon, which is what I paid at Sheetz yesterday. My tank was full today, so I did not purchase more at $3.19/gallon.) The governments' actions could help make credit more readily available. This thing could soften for the consumer. (I am, of course, speculating. Like everyone else here, I rely on Blackhedd on this score.)
The McCain camp can conceivably present a viable alternative to Obama's meaningless meanderings, at least enough to make many voters uncertain of in which way to turn. At this point, the character and judgment issues kick in. When the nation is in uncertain times, will the average voter want to lurch suddenly in an uncertain direction dictated by cronies and someone who shares intellectual landscape with anti-American agitators like Billy Ayers, Rashid Khalidi, Rev. Wright, and Fr. Pfleger?
If the economy recedes enough as an issue and Obama's flawed judgment and character move further to the fore, this race could return to a 2, 3, 4 point contest, advantage Obama. At that point, there might be a "Bradley Effect," but I do not want to begin to speculate how many Democrats are such that they might tell pollsters that they would vote for Obama only to turn on him in the polling place because of his race. Actually, bigger than that will be the "Palin Effect."
The Palin Effect? It is GOTV. Conventional wisdom, which sounds okay to me in this case, is that President Bush defeated John Kerry because of the excellent Rove-Mehlman Get Out The Vote effort. And this year, the GOTV will be named Sarah, vilified by the media and by quasi-conservative pseudo-intellectuals, afraid of the face value.
I don't know if I've answered Tom Bevan's question, and I know I could not do so with certainty, but it looks to me like Steve Schmidt is playing to win. You get close enough in as many places as you can, then you let the nature of the conservative voters run its course.