Three Moves Obama Has

The state of the race thus far.  The final debate was last night, and with its conclusion went the last chance for McCain to make a better case than Senator Obama for the presidency.  According to focus groups and flash polls, that was a failure, and the slow slogging death march to election day continues.

With this opportunity come and gone, the chances for McCain to drag his campaign back to where it needs to be to have a chance at winning have narrowed greatly.  Had he managed something spectacular at last night’s debate, that could have at least staunched the bleeding, but as it happens almost the opposite happened; Barack Obama is widely seen to have won, and his ticket is now considered to have swept the debates.

Further, this could put McCain in an even worse position.  If the national and state polls over the next few days validate the flash polls and focus groups, we can expect to see the already large gap between the presidential candidates widen if only by a small amount.

The problem from here on out is that without forcefully controlling the narrative on some level, local or national, McCain risks these numbers solidifying against him, and virtually blocking him from the White House.

Under different circumstances, McCain could have two other avenues open to him, both of which focus on the ground level of the campaign.  He could put faith in his ground game, and or he could focus on his advertising to turn the tides.  The problem here, though, is that we know that Obama has a far more aggressive grassroots campaign in his organization, and Obama has a severe monetary advantage that gives him the ability to out buy McCain on media time.

Alternatively, McCain could rely upon the GOP or 527’s to do the dirty work for him, but in this instance he’s in a bad place.  Organizations both inside and outside of the GOP have only a limited amount of funds, and McCain’s looking very much like a long shot to win the election, making him a very risky investment.  McCain is going to have to do some leg work on his own in the polls before outsiders come to his aid, otherwise it is in their interest to ditch the presidential campaign and instead focus on performing damage control in congressional races.

Thus, McCain’s best shot at making a come back is now controlling news cycles for the next nineteen days.  He desperately needs the free positive exposure for himself and/or the free negative exposure for his opponent that only the media can provide.

And even this is not likely to be easy.  McCain took a calculated risk to antagonize the media, ostensibly in an effort to discredit any attempts from the media to disqualify his running mate, Sarah Palin, in the public’s eyes.  But in so doing, he also lost the ability to count on the media as an echo chamber in his favor, and as we’ve seen in the past few weeks, the media is not likely to pass on his attacks without reporting them with heavy skepticism.

The other thing that stands in McCain’s way is that Obama has potentially three cards in his own hand that he can play to steal back the news cycle if he needs it.

First, there is the release of Obama’s September fund raising totals.  Obviously I haven’t heard the official number, but there are rumors that Obama’s likely to report a number that is in between 90 million and 100 million.  It will be yet another record breaker, and definitely the kind of story that will eat up at least one news cycle.  If the Obama campaign can get its surrogates in a row, they could possibly drag this out for a second day by having them reiterate talking points about small donors, and a true alternative to public financing that is more in keeping with the intent than actually accepting public financing does.

Second is the half hour prime time tv slot that the Obama campaign bought.  In fact, Fox has agreed to schedule game six of the World Series should it come to a sixth game just to accommodate the buy.  Scheduled just days before election day, this half hour has the potential to soak up the last few news cycles.  But, again, if the Obama team plays it just right, they could own the news cycle for potentially up to a week prior to the scheduled half hour by stirring up interest and intrigue around the event.  Think about the rollout of the selection of Biden as Obama’s running mate; that was nearly a week’s worth of controlling the media through incredible campaign discipline, and keeping everyone on the hook until the name was leaked at the eleventh hour.

Finally, there’s one wild card in there that I’m not sure about; Colin Powell.  Yesterday, rumors began to float that the former secretary of state could endorse Senator Obama, and yet today we’ve heard nothing further.  Of course, if you were paying attention during the Democratic primaries, this shouldn’t come as a surprise; the Obama campaign carefully choreographed all of its endorsements in order to win as many media battles with Clinton as possible.

If Powell is intending to endorse Obama, I would expect that the Obama campaign has taken over the matter, and is planning to roll out the endorsement when it would have the most positive impact on the race.  And, again, the Obama campaign could control I would say at the least two days with the Powell endorsement, three if it played its cards right.

So think about that; McCain now effectively has eighteen days left in this campaign to control as much of the news cycle as he can.  Obama can trump him for two days using his fund raising totals, two or three days using Powell, and perhaps a week with his half hour ad buy.  So, of eighteen days, Obama could potentially monopolize as many as eleven of them.

That leaves seven days McCain needs to make the most out of.

(edited by DrGail)

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