Friday, October 3, 2008

Two weeks ago, John McCain had made great strides in Michigan, Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, all looking like sure battleground territory — in the case of Michigan and Pennsylvania states that had voted for the Democrat in each of the last four presidential elections. But polls since Mr. McCain announced that he would suspend his campaign to help Congress pass a bailout to the financial industry, show Barack Obama leading in all of them, according to Real Clear Politics’ poll average.

Mr. McCain’s support for the bailout and the perception that he was backing down from a debate have cost him dearly despite the fact that Mr. Obama has said he supports it and voted for the same Senate “bailout” resolution Mr. McCain did.

In Ohio, where the two were tied according to a Rasmussen poll and Real Clear’s poll average last week, those same pollsters now show the Arizona senator down two points. It is still a dead heat there, two points being within the margin of error, but Mr. McCain was up just over 1 percentage point before the first presidential debate. Ohio voters, who are convinced that free-trade policies are destroying their economy, were lukewarm to the ardent-free-trader Republican nominee from the beginning.

And there is a huge problem staring down the McCain campaign in their own backyard, all around its headquarters in Arlington. Rasmussen polling last week showed Mr. Obama ahead of Mr. McCain 50 percent to 45 percent. That was the second time a poll showed Mr. Obama at or above 50 percent in Virginia last month. When an opponent reaches half or more of the electorate’s support it is an automatic signal to go to “Defcon 5” in any election. Now polls show Mr. Obama ahead anywhere from 3 to 9 percentage points and getting as much as 53 percent in a CNN/Time poll. General-election pundits and campaign workers have known all along that if Mr. Obama wins all of the states John Kerry won in 2004 and Virginia, he wins the White House.

Mr. McCain made a strategic gamble by making himself the focus of the bailout negotiations, arguably the most contentious and certainly one of the most unpopular pieces of legislation in the eyes of American voters this year. His plan has by all accounts backfired. That allowed Mr. Obama to cruise into the first debate without a scratch, while Mr. McCain, who had called for postponing the debate, was handicapped.

Fiscal conservatives like the bailout plan a lot less than any other group on the political spectrum, and losing their votes to Mr. Obama or to apathy would doom Mr. McCain’s hopes of winning.

Mr. McCain, who has campaigned against earmarks and pork-barrel spending, voted in favor of them in the bailout legislation. That vote could come back to haunt.

“Throughout his career, Sen. McCain has been a very vigilant watchdog of taxpayer dollars, leading the fight against unnecessary and wasteful spending in the past. We urge McCain to apply that admirable vigilance to the recent spate of government bailouts,” said Club for Growth president Pat Toomey of Mr. McCain, who last week supported a $25 billion bailout of the American auto industry.

The warning bell has been rung, and he didn’t listen. Now he has voted for a Senate bailout resolution loaded with pork and wasteful spending.

Florida, Nevada and New Hampshire are still toss-up states, but leaning toward Mr. Obama. Mr. McCain is still just barely within striking distance in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where Real Clear shows Mr. Obama up by almost 8 percent and 5 percent, respectively, in those states.

But losing Virginia — an East Coast state whose polls close early on Election Day — for a Republican nominee is the kiss of death.

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