Historic race down to wire

Published 11:01 am Monday, October 6, 2008

By Staff
We are down to the homestretch in the 2008 presidential contest. The protracted race has four weeks left to go.
It is a historic contest. The Democrats have fielded the first African American in history to head a major party ticket. Freshman Illinois Sen. Barack Obama will face the stereotypical Presidential candidate in Republican Sen. John McCain. McCain has been a congressman and senator from Arizona for three decades.
Even though the two candidates are vastly different in looks and experience, they have some interesting similarities. It is historically unusual for a sitting U.S. Senator to move to the White House, but this trend will end as both McCain and Obama are U.S. senators. Only two U.S. senators have gone directly from the Senate to the presidency.
Whichever senator is elected to be president will also be left handed. In races for the White House lefties have the upper hand. In 1992 all three contenders, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Ross Perot, were all southpaws. In fact, six of the 12 presidents since WWII have been left handed, Harry Truman, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, Bush Sr., Clinton, and either Obama or McCain.
Usually the vice presidential candidate does not affect the outcome of the presidential race. However, there are signs that this year may be different.
The GOP had the inherent advantage of having their convention last. Thus, the GOP had the benefit of knowing that Obama had spurned Hillary Clinton as his running mate, even though she was the first choice of the majority of Democrats for president. The choice of Palin was no accident or seat of the pants decision. This day and time with the advances made in computerized polling and use of focus groups you can be sure that all research pointed to Palin, who has turned out to be even better than the expected. A lot of swing voters can relate to her. She also energizes and galvanizes the religious right. Palin was a smart choice.
Joe Biden was also a good choice for Obama. He helps shore up Obama's lack of experience, especially in the area of foreign policy. Politically, Biden helps with blue collar Catholic voters. These important swing voters voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton in the primaries. Additionally, Biden's roots are in Scranton, Pennsylvania. This fact was not overlooked by the Obama team. If Biden only helps the ticket by carrying Pennsylvania, then his selection was a positive. The Keystone state is a key to the election.
This brings us to an important point to remember when watching the final weeks of the campaign. Remember we do not elect our president by direct popular vote. We have an Electoral College. Under the Electoral College process it does not matter if McCain beats Obama in Alabama by 300,000 votes or only 300 votes, McCain will still receive the same nine electoral votes.
By the same token the national horserace polling figures are worthless and irrelevant. The polls that matter are in the ten key pivotal swing states. If you watch the itineraries and appearances of the candidates in this final month they will always be in one of these ten battleground states. The states that will decide the presidency are Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan in the Midwest, and the western states of Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada. The new swing states are Virginia and New Hampshire. Missouri is an important swing state but it is trending Republican.
Florida is the ultimate all important swing state. The Sunshine State is the grand prize with its 27 electoral votes. However, Florida, like Missouri, is trending toward McCain
The election, with all its differences, talk of new trends, and change in the electoral map, could very well boil down to exactly the same scenario as four years ago. It may all revolve around Ohio. We will see in about four weeks. It should be interesting.
Steve Flowers is a political columnist who served 16 years in the state Legislature.