Hey now, hey now – don’t dream it’s over

Jay Cost at RCP’s Horserace blog has some sobering news about McCain’s and Obama’s respective RCP averages, and how in actuality in those numbers there hasn’t been much of a change over the course of the last week. McCain, he argues, can’t get any traction going against Obama because the more unsettling news is reported about the economy, the stock market, and the financial crisis, the more people will turn to the opposition party – no matter the nominee:

So long as the newspapers and the televisions are full of stories about contraction, which as you can see dominated every day this week here in Pittsburgh, John McCain’s poll position will be weak. That’s all there is to it. Conservatives can criticize McCain for not doing this, that or the other; liberals can praise Obama for doing this, that, or the other. But the fact remains that, as of today, the state of the race is pretty simple: this was an even-steven contest until the markets started to sputter and people started really worrying about the economy. Now Obama’s up 6 points.

This is infuriating conservatives. If you peruse the conservative blogs or listen to talk radio – you can almost feel their anger. There’s plenty of blame to go around, they argue. And of course they’re right – both parties are to blame – but it doesn’t matter.

The average voter doesn’t understand the intricacies of economic policy. Heck, when you think about it, nobody really understands the economy. So, voters often rely on simple yet sensible metrics to make political decisions about the economy. One of them has been more or less operative since the election of 1840: if the economy tanks during a Republican administration, vote Democrat. If it tanks during a Democratic administration, vote Republican. Applying this rule to 2008, we get the following. McCain, because he is of the incumbent party, gets the political harm. Obama, because he is of the out party, gets the political benefit. That’s all there is to it.

This rule might not be just, but remember justice is a matter of law. This is a matter of politics, a space where the law does not exist. This rule might not make for the best choice every time, but in the long run it does have some beneficial effects. Above all, it makes the party in charge work hard for growth, which is what the country really wants.

Does that mean this race is over? No. If the bad news dissipates and some good news manages to creep back into the papers and onto the television, McCain’s position should improve at least a bit. But that means that his fortunes are out of his control (the same goes for Obama). A retooled message might help him at the margin, but to change things he’s first going to need some better headlines.

Couple with that the fact that McCain’s drop in tracking numbers directly coincides with the implosion of the stock market. Before that, Mc was enjoying the momentum wave alongside Gov. Palin, and looked poised to possibly defy the odds in the “year of the Democrat.” But the sour economic/financial news put them at a disadvantage, primarily because McCain is a member of the Republican party, which just happens to be the same party the unpopular president who we see almost every day is a member of, too.

It’s not over, of course – but the odds aren’t good right now. Between the daily bad domestic news and a media that is deeply in the tank for Obama, not to mention the problems sometimes the McCain campaign brings on itself, overcoming the obstacles is going to be difficult. Nevertheless, as I’ve said before, don’t stop fighting. Liberals have already started passing around the champagne glasses and are hoping conservatives just give up. Let’s continue to demonstrate that we won’t.

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