THE RACE TODAY
Most of the analysis before and after the debate and today says that McCain is behind, everything is trending Obama, and McCain needed to "change the momentum" in the debate by scoring some direct hits. He failed to do that, so woe is McCain.
But what if the premise were false? What if the polls don't really show a major break toward Obama? I decided to do something dramatic -- check it out for myself.
You need 270 electoral votes to win. If you apply the recent state-by-state poll results and include leaners, Obama has 264, or is 6 short, with eight states in the toss-up category. If all the leaners hold, then Obama can win by picking up any one of the 8 states other than Nevada (5 EVs), which has broken sharply for him in the past 8 days.
The other seven states:
Indiana (11). The most recent poll, CNN/Time, has McCain +5 and ticking up in this reliably red state.
NC (15). Oct 6 SurveyUSA poll has McCain +3 in a state the GOP is counting on.
Ohio (20). Four polls of likely voters on 10/3 or later range from McCain +1 to Obama +6. Toss-up.
Virginia (13). Oct 5 Rasmussen poll has Obama +2. Virginia is normally red but has been trending blue. McCain is threatening to freeze wages for federal govt workers and eliminate agencies, but govt workers vote Democrat already.
Missouri (11). RCP average = Obama +0.3. True toss-up.
Colorado (9). Two polls this week have Obama +6, +6.
FL (27). The two most recent polls have Obama +7, +2. McCain led handily in FL through most of 2008, so these numbers are worrisome.
So as it stands, Obama only has to pick up one of those states while McCain has to defend all.
But overall you would have to say that the race remains more competitive with 3+ weeks remaining than the media commentary would have us believe. McCain's fundraising has been strong and he has been relatively restrained in his spending. He has many bullets left to fire and can still launch an offensive that puts Obama on defense and forces a narrative upon a stubborn media in the final days before decision time.
So: Uphill? Yes. Lost cause? Not at all. You'd rather be ahead than behind, but it is still winnable because Obama's critical vulnerabilities have not yet been targeted. But it does raise the question why McCain has two campaign events today in. . . Wisconsin (Obama +8, Kerry in 2004, Gore in 2000).
(And all this under the banner that McCain is the better of two bad candidates and is therefore preferred.)
UPDATE: Rich Lowry:
A lot of conservatives are throwing up theirs hands today, driven into depression by last night's debate. But let's keep our wits about us, as Mark Steyn recommends. One more thought on Ayers. It's an entirely legitimate issue, but not a magic bullet. McCain could have brought Ayers up last night, but Obama would have given his stock reply and it wouldn't have been the "game-changer" everyone's looking for. And if McCain had repeatedly returned to Ayers, it would have seemed weird and off-key. I think McCain made a pretty good substantive case against Obama, and he lived to fight another day. Palin will presumably continue to make the hot-button case against Obama (and it will get attention because the media's so obsessed with her), while McCain hits Obama on the issues and experience. Absent some major outside event or a big Obama mistake, they're going to have to try to grind down his lead in the next couple of weeks. I tend to believe that voters are going to take a serious second look at Obama sometime between now and election day and grapple with whether they're really comfortable making him president. So this thing's not over. Are the odds long? Sure, but they always were.