Shifts in the electoral map favor Barack Obama.

Shifts in the electoral map favor Barack Obama.

Shifts in the electoral map favor Barack Obama.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Oct. 5 2008 7:57 AM

Advantage Obama

The New York Timesleads with a look at how the beleaguered economy has shifted the electoral map in Barack Obama's favor. (The Washington Post stuffs a nearly identical story.) According to the Times, Obama has a "solid lead" or is "well positioned" in states that account for 260 electoral votes, while John McCain has the advantage in states representing 200 electoral votes. McCain's advisers are hoping that the issue of the economy recedes, but the Los Angeles Timeslead story predicts sustained misery. "[A]lmost every major player in the economy...is now beating a hasty retreat," says the LAT. Europe, meanwhile, isn't faring much better and the Washington Postleads with the continent's four largest economic powers rejecting a joint strategy to shore up banks. The leaders of Britain, France, Germany and Italy did, however, call for a global summit to revamp the international monetary system set up under the Bretton Woods Agreements.

Only a month ago Barack Obama's strategy of competing aggressively on Republican turf was looking overly ambitious. But, as the NYT reports, the weakening economy and Obama's fundraising advantage have given new force to his efforts to win at least nine states that voted for George Bush in 2004. Not only does this give Obama more ways to reach the 270 electoral votes needed to win, it also forces John McCain to spend money defending once-reliable red states, while limiting his ability to compete elsewhere.

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After pointing out Obama's substantial advantages, the Times covers itself by mentioning "how closely contested the campaign remains" and warning that "the field could...shift again in the final weeks." The McCain campaign certainly isn't throwing in the towel. "Senator Obama has more money than God, the most favorable political climate imaginable—a three-week Wall Street meltdown and financial crisis—and with all that, the most margin he can get is four points?" said Bill McInturff, a McCain pollster. Four points, really?

The Times lead delicately mentions the McCain campaign's strategy going into the final weeks of the race. Aides say the Republican ticket will step up its attacks on Barack Obama, and on Saturday Sarah Palin previewed the new approach. The WP reports that, seizing on a NYT articleexamining Obama's relationship with former radical Bill Ayers, Palin accused the Democratic nominee of "palling around with terrorists." Apparently Palin didn't read the whole article though, because the NYT concluded that "the two men do not appear to have been close." The Post doesn't mince words, calling Palin's comment "a distortion."

Further inside the WP, columnist David Broder asks, "Why in the world has the McCain campaign kept Palin under wraps from her debut at the Republican National Convention until [the vice-presidential] debate? What were they afraid of?" Oddly, he then admits to having seen the Katie Couric interviews.

The WP also takes a look at the top of the Republican ticket, examining John McCain's experience as a prisoner of war. TP has not seen a more comprehensive and compelling look at the facts surrounding McCain's fateful bombing mission and subsequent imprisonment at the Hanoi Hilton. The Post also makes the interesting observation that, unlike John Kerry and George W. Bush, McCain has come under little pressure to release his military records.

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The McCain story appears on page one, perhaps assuaging those Republicans who feel the Post is biased toward Barack Obama. According Deborah Howell, the paper's ombudsman, the complainants may have a case—since Obama became the presumptive Democratic nominee on June 4, he has been featured in 163 page-one stories, compared to 131 for McCain. (The NYT ombudsman says his paper has published more tough articles on Obama, 20, than on McCain, 13, since the beginning of last year.) More troubling is that, since November, the Post has published twice as many horse-race stories as issue stories.

The LAT's pessimistic lead story on the economy relies on troubling statistics and the grim predictions of analysts. American employers cut 159,000 jobs in September and other numbers show "consumers hunkering down, manufacturers losing orders and states making cuts." But perhaps the Times should ask itself if it's prudent to rely on the dire forecasts of analysts who, the paper admits, were predicting much rosier scenarios only a month ago.

The NYT continues its "Reckoning" series of articles exploring the causes of the financial crisis with a look at the decline of Fannie Mae. Facing pressure from all sides, the government-sponsored (and now government-controlled) mortgage giant purchased or guaranteed at least $270 billion in loans to risky borrowers between 2005 and 2008—"more than three times as much as in all its earlier years combined." Yet up until recently, investors, lenders and Congress were urging the company to take on even more risk.

The NYT fronts allegations that Hamid Karzai's brother is linked to the heroin trade in Afghanistan. American officials think he's dirty, as do many Afghans. But when the Americans urged Karzai to remove him from the country, the president refused, demanding clear-cut evidence of his brother's misdeeds. That is something the Americans don't have.

The WP reports that the Army will unveil a new doctrine on Monday that asserts nation-building will take precedence over standard warfare in the future. Meanwhile, the NYT reports on the formation of the new Africa Command, which is responsible for coordinating American military affairs on the continent. The papers make no connection between the two stories.

A five-letter word for Democratic presidential nominee ... In his column this week, Clark Hoyt, the NYT ombudsman, notes a finding by Politico that "Obama" has appeared six times in NYT crossword puzzles since January 2005, while "McCain" hasn't appeared once. Political bias on the part of crosswords editor Will Shortz? Nope. "Obama is a godsend for crossword constructors because the name is short and has three vowels out of five letters," Shortz said. Hoyt notes that "McCain", with its successive c's, is much harder to work with. No pun intended.