Thursday, September 18, 2008


In what now seems the long ago days between the time Sen. John McCain chose Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate and her acceptance speech, there was considerable speculation in the news media that Mr. McCain would drop her from the ticket.

This was entirely a media invention. There was no sentiment among Republicans for replacing Mrs. Palin, and Mr. McCain - whose loyalty to his friends nearly cost him his life in Vietnam - is not the kind of person who would desert his choice.

And there was a very practical reason why this option never was considered. Sen. George McGovern was going to lose in 1972 no matter what, but the final nail in his coffin was when he dumped running-mate Sen. Thomas Eagleton after it was revealed Mr. Eagleton had had shock treatments for an unspecified mental illness. With one stroke, Mr. McGovern called into question both his judgment and his loyalty.

There has, of course, been no further speculation about dropping Sarah Palin from the ticket after her boffo performance in St. Paul, Minn. But my friend Steve Maloney (who first got me interested in Sarah Palin) says his sources in the Democratic Party tell him Barack Obama is being pressured to dump Sen. Joseph Biden from the ticket and replace him with Hillary Clinton, the switch to come just after the vice presidential debate Oct. 2. Speculation about such a switch has emerged on several left-wing blogs.

“It’s time to dump Biden and replace him with Sen. Hillary Clinton,” said Andy Ostroy on the Huffington Post Monday. “I’m starting to think that if Team Obama doesn’t do something dramatic fast, it’s gonna lose this election.”

What might prompt such an act of desperation? The polls - which indicate the race is a statistical dead heat - are cause for concern, but not for panic.

This might be the reason: “Party elders also believe the Obama camp is in denial about warnings from Democratic pollsters that his true standing is 4 to 6 points lower than that in published polls because of hidden racism from voters,” wrote Tim Shipman in the London Telegraph Sunday.

“While the polling is close, I believe it is far worse than the numbers reflect given social apprehension of middle-of-the-road uncommitted respondents to appear racist by not supporting Obama,” wrote former Democratic congressional candidate Paul Hackett on the Daily Kos blog. “Thus instead of being down in Ohio by 3 or 4 points I would argue that for planning purposes the working assumption should indicate that Obama is down in Ohio by roughly 10 points.”

If this is true (and I don’t think it is), Mr. Obama is in very deep kimche. There are 12 states in which this election will be decided. Seven - Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Iowa, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada - were carried by President Bush in 2004. Five - Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and New Hampshire - were carried by Sen. John Kerry.

To win, a candidate must amass 270 electoral votes. President Bush won 286 in 2004, so Mr. McCain has 16 to play with. He could lose Iowa (7) and either Colorado (9), New Mexico (5) or Nevada (5) and still win the election.

As a practical matter, Mr. McCain can’t win unless he carries both Florida (27) and Ohio (20), but he is already leading in both states, and if Mr. Hackett is right, then they’re already out of Mr. Obama’s reach.

Also as a practical matter, Mr. Obama can’t win if he loses either Pennsylvania (21) or Michigan (17). The public polls indicate both states are tossups, but if Mr. McCain has a hidden 4 to 6 percentage point advantage, he has the lead in both. New York, New Jersey, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Washington state and New Hampshire might also switch from blue to red, while the only red state in which Mr. McCain would be behind is Iowa.

State by state polls should be taken with a grain of salt. A recent poll indicated a 20 percentage point lead for Mr. McCain in North Carolina, and a statistical tie in Virginia.

North Carolina was, on average, 3 percentage points more Republican than Virginia in the last two presidential elections. It’s inconceivable nearly 20 percentage points could be separating them now. The massive turnout at a McCain-Palin rally in one of the bluest counties in Virginia a week ago suggests the North Carolina poll may be the more accurate.

Could a “Hail Hillary” pass change the grim arithmetic facing Mr. Obama? We may find out.

Jack Kelly, a syndicated columnist, is a former Marine and Green Beret and a former deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force in the Reagan administration. He is national security writer for the Pittsburgh (Pa.) Post-Gazette.

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