A campaign blog.

Nov. 4 2008 7:48 PM

No Reverse Coattails in Virginia

Early returns from Virginia are not encouraging for those who are hoping that Democrat Mark Warner's popularity in the state can push Obama over the top as well. Some had hoped that Warner, who is running for the Senate against fellow former governor Jim Gilmore, would produce a "reverse coattails" effect , attracting voters who support him to vote for the other Democrats on the ticket as well.

With 10 percent of precincts reporting at a few minutes before eight, however, it appears Virginians are more than willing to split the ticket. Obama trails McCain 43-56, while Warner leads Gilmore 57-41, prompting MSNBC to call the race for him . Students of Virginia politics will not find this terribly surprising; in recent years the state has rarely had a governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general of the same party, even though all three offices are elected independently of one another on the same ballot every four years.

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Nov. 4 2008 6:46 PM

Mini Wonk

John McCain and his staff spent the last night of the campaign at the Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix. But early Tuesday afternoon, the biggest McCain booster in the place appears to a 13-year-old boy.

"The reason I disapprove of Obama is his liberal economics," says Conor O’Connell, decked out in an oversize McCain T-shirt covered in buttons. "He taxes the rich. But in his definition, that’s everyone with a job."

O’Connell is holding court in the hotel lobby, where members of Sarah Palin’s family are fawning over him. He goes to school in Phoenix—he’s a seventh-grader at Desert Arroyo Middle School—but he’s taking the day off after begging his dad to let him attend the McCain rally. "He’ll never have another chance like this," says his father, Sean.

O’Connell says he supports John McCain for all sorts of reasons, chief among them oil. "Of course I totally support alternative energy," he says. "But if we have oil, why don’t we use it before we go spend a billion dollars on research for other things?" O’Connell says his two biggest influences are his dad, a consultant and small-business owner who makes no secret of his distaste for regulation, and Ms. Kratzke, his social studies teacher.

The rest of his information comes from Fox News. "I do agree that it’s very Republican, but they give you both sides of the story," he says. The rest of the media? Not so much. "When McCain and Palin make a mistake, the liberal media is on them like that," he says. "But when Obama and Biden do it, no one cares. It’s so corrupt."

Eventually, O’Connell sees himself going into politics, "probably as a congressman or senator or governor." I ask him what drives him. "I just want to be for the people," he says. "I just want to go out there and change things." He says he wishes he could run now—unfortunately, few states allow 13-year-olds to hold public office. So "McCain is doing it for me," he says, laughing. But he points out that the youngest mayor in America is 19 years old.

He already has a head start. In elementary school, O’Connell was vice president and treasurer of his class. He wanted to be president, but he lost—a tough early dose of reality. (His little sister, now in fifth grade, occupies his old seat.) But he has since recovered. This fall, his school held a mock presidential election. He won on a platform of fast food for everyone. "I wasn’t talking about McDonald’s," he reassures me. "I said we want Panda Express and Rubio. … The fast food I’m talking about was healthy." It wasn’t an easy victory. He ran against one of his best friends, Justin. "Of course this didn’t separate our friendship at all." From that experience, O’Connell says he learned the value of knowing your constituents. "I listened to what the kids wanted," he said. "I related to them."

O’Connell tells me he didn’t run for student government this year because they don’t have any actual power. "I don’t want to take shots at them, but they don’t really get to change anything," he says. Instead, he’s currently spearheading the creation of a school senate. If successful, he thinks it’s only fair that he would be "supreme senator." " 'Students First’ is my motto," he says, playing off McCain’s slogan. Not everyone is happy with the senate plan, particularly members of the pre-existing student government. "They call it 'high treason’ or whatever," he says. "I just want to get students involved."

For now, O’Connell is following the No. 1 rule of campaigning: Reach out to your friends and neighbors. "I do influence my peers as far as supporting John McCain." As we’re talking, several adults passing by comment on how articulate he is. "You’re the smartest kid I’ve ever met," says one guy in a McCain hat. Connor agrees that most kids his age could learn a few things. "I don’t want to be like I’m all that," says Connor. "I’d just like to educate them more."

Later, O’Connell came outside to meet members of the McCain communications team. There, he shared his views on immigration and drilling and assured them that most of his classmates were McCain supporters. Michael Goldfarb, who writes the official McCain blog , seemed cheered. "I think we’re gonna win the youth vote in 2012," he said. "I can feel it."

Nov. 4 2008 6:24 PM

Prematurely Making Premature Predictions

Exit polls are here! In proud Slate tradition , we bring you the exit polls bouncing around that they won't talk about on TV. The omnipresent disclaimer applies: These exit polls are 100 percent unreliable. They are not the real thing, nor are they guaranteed to bear any semblance to the real thing. With that in mind: 

Ohio: Obama +8
New Mexico: Obama +9
Virginia: Obama +9
Pennsylvania: Obama +15
Missouri: Obama +7
Florida: Obama +4

Nov. 4 2008 4:05 PM

Obama's Grandmother's Vote Barely Made the Cut

Although Barack Obama’s maternal grandmother passed away late Sunday night , Hawaii’s chief elections officer says the absentee ballot she cast on Oct. 27 will still count in today’s election. At the risk of being callous about this sad story, the subject of whether Madelyn Dunham’s vote should count is open to interpretation.

A similar case cropped up during the Democratic primary, when a South Dakota woman named Florence Steen voted by absentee ballot for Hillary Clinton but passed away prior to the state’s June 3 primary. (Clinton thanked Steen by name during a victory speech in West Virginia .) As Slate reported in a May 14 " Explainer ," Steen’s vote was not counted; South Dakota law allows for the fairly quick and efficient removal of such ballots. States vary on how they handle this situation.

After Slate re-posted that column today in response to news that Dunham’s vote would count, reader Jon Cohen e-mailed me to point out that Hawaii’s election law contains a provision similar to South Dakota’s. Section 15-13 of the state election law’s chapter on absentee voters (PDF) explicit states that:

Whenever sufficient proof is shown to the clerk that an absentee voter who has returned the voter's return envelope has died prior to the opening of the polls on the date of election, the voter's ballot shall be deemed invalid and disposed of pursuant to section 11-154.

So why was Dunham’s vote allowed to count? Hawaii Chief Elections Officer Kevin Cronin tells Trailhead that, when an absentee voter dies, the ballot is not removed until Hawaii’s Department of Health issues an official list of the names of deceased persons to the city clerk’s office, which will not happen until later this month. Unlike Steen, who passed away several weeks prior to the election, the two-day turnaround in Dunham’s case creates "a practical administrative problem," Cronin says, in fishing out her ballot out from among the tens of thousands of absentee ballots in Honolulu—even if her death had been officially reported by the Department of Health.

Robert Ichikawa, an attorney at the Honolulu firm Kobayashi, Sugita, and Goda, says the decision comes down to how one interprets the phrase "sufficient proof" in the law, saying the use of an official health department report is reasonable if applied consistently.

Even if Hawaii’s four electoral votes were decided by one person’s ballot, a challenge over Obama’s grandmother could not throw the election. The law specifically states that "[t]he casting of any such ballot shall not invalidate the election."

Nov. 4 2008 3:33 PM

Swift Boat Watch: Right Change

See all Swift Boat Watch entries here .

Who They Are: Right Change

Purpose: Though claiming to be nonpartisan, the group has run all anti-Obama ads.

Executive Director: Tim Pittman

Funding: According to IRS reports , the group received almost $5.5 million from its president, Fred Eshelman, who is also the CEO of PPD, a pharmaceutical research firm in North Carolina.

Cost of the Ad: $500,000

Where It Ran: Washington, D.C., and North Carolina through the middle of this week.

Claims: Fighting terror has cost America almost $1 trillion. The ad implies that Sept. 11 was responsible for the current economic crisis. After quoting Joe Biden's much-repeated remark about a crisis early in an Obama presidency, the ad says Obama's policies undermine counterterrorism efforts.

Accuracy: Congressional Research Service puts the price tag for the war on terror at $864 billion since Sept. 11 ( PDF ). Although Biden predicted an international crisis, he made no mention of the crisis being related to terrorism. There have been many reasons given for the probable cause of the economic crisis ( Alan Greenspan , globalization , Wall Street ). Sept. 11 fails to make the short list. Experts on terrorism agree that Obama's counterterrorism policy is actually very similar to current U.S. policy.

Background: Eshelman has been donating to the Republican cause for years. Two other board members are Republican legislators from North Carolina. The group's first ad made no mention of Obama's name but clearly referred to his tax plan. Until now, the attack ads have focused on Obama's tax plan being bad for Americans.

Swift Boat Rating:

Invoking the Sept. 11 attacks is a cheap scare tactic. The ad also implies that Sept. 11 caused the financial crisis (unfounded) and that Obama's policy on terrorism would leave the United States vulnerable but offers no reasoning for this claim.

Nov. 4 2008 3:14 PM

McCain's Closer

John McCain capped off his seven-day marathon Monday night with a midnight rally in Prescott, Ariz., the town where Barry Goldwater launched his Senate and presidential campaigns.

After 26 straight hours of campaigning, McCain kept it brief. "We’re gonna win tomorrow," he said. "And we’re gonna be this …" he paused, catching himself. "We’re gonna bring this home." He stood at the base of the Yavapai County Court House steps with the biggest American flag I’ve ever seen hanging behind him.

They have a joke in Arizona, he said: that it’s the only state where mothers don’t tell their kids they can grow up to be president, after Barry Goldwater and so many others failed. "Tomorrow, we’re gonna reverse that tradition, and I’m gonna be president of the United States."

He told a few anecdotes, including one favorite about a woman in Wolfeboro, N.H., who begged him not to let her son’s death be in vain. He promised, as usual, to put country first. During the quiet moments, you could hear a crowd of Obama supporters chanting their candidate’s name.

At the end of an epic campaign like this, it’s hard not to get emotional. When Cindy introduced him, her voice cracked on "my husband, John McCain." Even McCain seemed to be getting misty. Instead of closing his speech with his trademark entreaty to "fight" and "stand up," he simply thanked everyone who came out. "It’s great to be home," he said.

Nov. 3 2008 7:32 AM

Donde Esta McCain?

Candidates love to tell crowds that they know they’ll win a state by the energy in the room. Of course there’s energy in the room, genius—these are the die-hard fans. It’s the people who didn’t show up that matter.

But at McCain’s midnight rally in Miami last night, he could be forgiven for being optimistic. Before McCain entered, a band and dance group had been performing the only salsa song I’ve ever heard about John McCain. "Dónde esta McCain?" the singer asked over and over. "En nuestra corazón." (This was 10 times better than that "Drill Here, Drill Now" song .) When McCain finally came onstage, the response was Obama-esque. I had to remind myself this was the same guy who had attracted maybe a thousand to a Wallingford, Pa., rally earlier that day.

McCain gave his usual speech, but with a local twist. Instead of Joe the Plumber, he joked about "Pépé el Plomero." ("That’s the last time I try that one," he said right after.) At one point he asked how many Venezuelan-Americans were in the room. Some cheering. Puerto Rican-Americans? More cheering. Cuban-Americans? The room vibrated for a full minute.

There’s evidence that Republicans’ grasp on Hispanics in Florida—particularly Cuban-Americans—is slipping. But among those still in McCain’s camp, the enthusiasm is overwhelming. Compared to the bursting energy in that room, polls seem momentarily irrelevant. You can see why the candidate remains hopeful.

Nov. 3 2008 12:40 AM

The Last Leg

Hundreds of marathoners filled the lobby of the Manhattan Hilton Sunday morning. John McCain was there, too, post- SNL , lacing up his proverbial shoes, stepping into his figurative short shorts, and rubbing metaphorical Vaseline on his hypothetical inner thighs. Whereas the runners’ race was a marathon, McCain was prepping for his final sprint to Election Day.

McCain’s closing schedule is brutal: He’s visiting Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Florida, Tennessee, Indiana, New Mexico, Nevada, and New Mexico before his final rally in Phoenix, Ariz. On Monday, he’s hitting seven different states. If there were any lingering questions about his physical fitness, let this settle them.

It’s tempting to see McCain’s tour as one last desperate heave. But so far, the final sprint is devoid of resignation, nostalgia, or any other attitudes you’d associate with a losing campaign—outwardly, at least. McCain is fierce on the stump, pounding the podium and urging crowds to "fight"—a word he uses upward of a dozen times per speech. He’s usually talking about fighting for freedom and America and our children and our future, but sometimes it sounds like he’s talking about himself.

The reason: The McCain people actually think they can win this thing. Top adviser Rick Davis blasted out a memo over the weekend arguing that the national polls are narrowing so quickly that, "if the trajectory continues, we will surpass the 270 Electoral votes needed on Election Night." He also argued, fairly implausibly , that Iowa is a "very close race" (almost every poll since October has Obama up by double digits ), that Colorado is "back on the map" (the state now has a wider gap than ever ), and that McCain is making progress with Hispanic voters (Obama has been holding, if not increasing , his lead among Latinos). During a flight to Pennsylvania, Charlie Black and Sen. Sam Brownback boarded the press charter to share their optimism. "At this time four years ago, Bush was down five points" in Iowa, Black said. Now McCain is currently down by one point, according to their internal polls. (And by "internal," one reporter quipped , they mean pulled from their ass.)

The problem is, well, the evidence. The last days of a campaign always produce an overwhelming number of polls, and each campaign gets to cherry-pick its favorite outliers. I’d put a lot of stock in Mason-Dixon, too, if it was the only poll that showed me within three points in Virginia . I would also be sure to cite the national polls that show the race tightening , even though national polls are nearly meaningless now. I might also put extra trust in my internal pollster Bill McInturff, who has a reputation for being cautious. But cherry picking is still cherry picking. And meta pollsters like Pollster.com (which urges restraint at this panic-prone moment) and FiveThirtyEight make it more and more difficult to highlight your own numbers in any convincing way.

But there’s one thing you can’t spin, and that’s geography. All the states McCain is visiting in his last 24 hours are states Bush won in 2004, with the exception of Pennsylvania. Having to stop a normally safe Republican state like Indiana the day before the election is an indignity on par with riding commercial. You do it only when you have to.

Still, McCain is keeping it upbeat. He made one last stop Sunday evening in Peterborough, N.H., where he chucked his stump speech in favor of the old town-hall format. (He hasn’t taken audience questions since the string of embarrassing incidents a few weeks back.) It was like a time warp. Instead of hammering Obama and Biden for their recent slip-ups, he talked about taxes and immigration and earmarks. He addressed local issues like the Seabrook power plant and New Hampshire’s first in the nation voting status. He looked relaxed. When it came time for closing remarks, he rounded back to his customary "fight" riff. But this time, instead of shouting, he said it quietly. "We will succeed," he said. "We will win."

Nov. 2 2008 12:24 AM

Message: I Joke

Political comedy is hard. On-message political comedy is damn near impossible.

But John McCain managed to pull it off on last night’s Saturday Night Live , where, with the help of Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin, he poked fun of Barack Obama’s much-viewed half-hour special. McCain would have bought time on all major networks for his own infomercial. "We, however, can only afford QVC."

So McCain and "Palin" proceeded to unveil various on-message infomercial products, including a collection of plates to commemorate McCain and Obama’s 10 town-hall meetings, all of which are blank ("He wouldn’t agree to those debates," McCain helpfully explained. "Too bad!");   a series of "Joe" action figures, including Joe the Plumber and Joe Biden ("Pull his string, and he speaks for 45 minutes."); and a set of knives especially designed for cutting out pork.

It wasn’t all on-message. At one point, Palin pulls the viewer aside to tout her "Palin 2012" T-shirts. McCain asks what she’s doing. "Just talkin’ about taxes," she says. She later quips, "Either I’m runnin’ in four years or I’m gonna be a white Oprah." There’s always back-and-forth between campaigns and the show as to which jokes get in and which ones don’t. (Watch Seth Meyers explain here .) So props to McCain for letting some of the touchier jokes fly.

Why pick the last weekend before Election Day to make fun of yourself? Free publicity never hurts. (Not that McCain needs it—he’s outspending Obama on advertising in the final week.) But it also opens the door for McCain to go out on a high note. One of the toughest narratives for a losing campaign to fight is the bleak Final Days storyline. But there’s no better way to do it than a little self-deprecation.

Oct. 30 2008 11:59 AM

Swift Boat Watch: Public Campaign Action Fund

See all Swift Boat Watch entries here .

Who They Are: Public Campaign Action Fund

Purpose: To promote publicly financed elections and hold politicians accountable for their sources of campaign money.

Funding: MoveOn.org contributed $400,000 for this ad.

Cost of the Ad: According to IRS reports , the group paid a little more than $1 million to a political consulting firm in October for media production and placement. The group's press release says that the media buy was six figures.

Where It Ran: Tallahassee, Fla., Roanoke and Lynchburg, Va., and national cable through Nov. 3.

Claims: John McCain loves gambling and has gambled with lobbyists in their own casinos. Gambling interest groups have contributed $1 million to McCain.

Accuracy: The Las Vegas Review Journal wrote an in-depth analysis about McCain's ties to gambling, personal and campaign-related. An investigative piece by the New York Times reported that McCain gambled with a lobbyist of a casino he oversaw while he was on the Senate Indian affairs committee. The Center for Responsive Politics reports that the casino/gambling industry gave $276,276 to McCain and $178,094 to Obama. According to the Review Journal article, a liberal watchdog group estimates McCain has received $951,000 in donations. Wynn Resorts, one company mentioned in the article, contributed $158,500 to the RNC in 2008, according to the Center For Responsive Politics.

Swift Boat Rating:

The claims made in the ad are accurate. It's hard to pinpoint an exact amount of contributions or fundraising from the gambling industry, but $1 million seems like a fair estimate.

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