Two Weeks Out

We are now officially two weeks out from the day voters head to the polls in Pennsylvania, so how does the race look from here?

We’ve heard individual polls discussing how Barack Obama appeared to be closing the gap in the long, hard slog leading up to the Pennsylvania primary.  As recently as a month ago, Obama was trailing Clinton in the Keystone state by as much as twenty points in some polls.  But just how effective have his efforts in Pennsylvania been?  According to Pollster, pretty effective.

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Keep in mind, mathematically Hillary Clinton needs to perform significantly better than twenty points over Obama here, but the aggregated polling trend shown above has Obama narrowing the deficit down to within eight points.  That’s pretty grim news for team Clinton, especially when you consider that North Carolina just isn’t getting any prettier for them:

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Now, going back to the trending in Pennsylvania, I think without any external influences, Obama is likely to pick up a couple more points on Hillary, but will still likely lose the state by a margin of three to five points.  This is, of course, assuming nothing happens, the aggregated trends are fairly accurate, and both candidates maintain their current trajectory.

Yes, because those three things happen all the time in politics.

With two weeks to go, anything can still happen, and you can’t predict what major news story will sink either campaign between now and then.  So, there’s no point even dwelling on that.

As for the trends maintaining their trajectory, there’s no way of knowing that either.  What I will say is that there’s still eight points of undecideds to be accounted for.  I bring this up because I think we can say that until those undecideds pick one camp or another, the trajectory should remain the same.

In fact, the only real question mark that is worth talking about here would be the April 19th debate.  In the next two weeks, that’s going to be the only opportunity either campaign has to affect a significant change in the trajectory of either candidate’s polling numbers.

For Obama, there’s absolutely no reason he would want to change the trajectory, so I would not expect him to engage in a risky performance at all.  Which means the debate is going to rest on Hillary and how her campaign views Obama’s progress in the state.  Either they’re going to see his rise in the polls as a major threat, or they’re going to take a win in Pennsylvania regardless of the margin.

If it’s the latter, than you can expect the debate to be pretty boring, and largely a sleep inducing affair.

If it’s the former, on the other hand, team Clinton is going to get itchy about tossing up a Hail Mary, and Hillary is likely to try and land a knock out blow on Obama.  Frankly, I don’t think there’s a punch she can land that would do what needs to be done.

I don’t know if team Clinton understands this, though.  If they do, go back to the whole sleep inducing affair prediction.  If they don’t, I think the debate’s going to hurt Hillary more than anything else.  In the last two debates, Hillary has let float answers or comments that fell incredibly flat.  The first was the plagiarism attack, and the second was the referencing of an SNL skit.  With the situation as extreme as it is now, if Clinton does decide to go to the haymaker, it’s going to be worse than those two combined, and I imagine Obama should be able to handle whatever she throws at him deftly.

Whatever the case, I only see the polls doing one of two things following the April 19th debate.  If it’s a boring debate, nothing happens, the trajectories stay on course.  If Hillary tries to land some heavy blows, I think the efforts will backfire, and you may see a slight shift in Obama’s favor.  Will it be enough to boost Obama into the lead?

There are several factors at play in the answer to that question.  The first is if he’ll be able to continue making up ground between now and then.  I think if he goes into that debate only three points down, the potential will be there.

From there it will be a matter of how severe the charge from Clinton, and how severe the blowback.

On the other hand, if he hasn’t pulled within five points, I don’t think anything short of a catastrophic failure on Clinton’s behalf during the debate will vault him into the lead.

Still, all things considered, I would say at this point Clinton takes Pennsylvania by five points good for a net gain of six to ten delegates.  This is a stark improvement from the almost thirty net delegate loss Obama was likely to suffer at the beginning of March.

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