Mon, May 20 2013
Whether you are biting your nails with tension to know who will become the next president of the United States, or crawling the walls with tedium at hearing the names Barack Obama, John McCain - and, of course, Sarah Palin - here is a rough sketch of how the narrative will unfold as what is expected to be a record number of voters go to the polls on November 4 2008 to mark out the immediate future of American history.
First, the very fact of turnouts in states higher than in recent years, or perhaps even recent decades, may delay to varying degrees the estimates of results. For that matter, in a country that has seen a protracted agony around a final result just eight years ago, the likelihood of a higher turnout, and the telegraphing of intentions that some results may be contested, also could delay finality, at least in some cases.
To get this out of the way, there can not be a direct correlation between opinion polls and actual results, especially in the US electoral system. However, the state of polls at this writing indicates a national victory for Obama - and yet, a slim chance of victory remains for the McCain camp if there are voters in bellwether states who will turn out for the Republican candidate. Thus far, if they exist in sufficient numbers to prove decisive, they remain under the radar. In the spirit of that one-time Republican vice president, Spiro Agnew, a silent majority, if you will.
It is no wonder that Obama, McCain and their respective lieutenants spent the final day before voting hectoring their camps to get out the vote. More so than ever, in some states every vote really does count. Especially votes in states like Ohio and Missouri.
Over a period of about five hours, as results come in from a dozen states, it should become clear which candidate should be asking an aide to set up a phone call to concede. Broadcasters will be bedazzling us with magic maps, performing numbers and talking heads, for whom all our sympathy, who in the first few hours may be left with not much to do except honour the spirit of that broadcaster who said of the Henley boat race that he could not see who was in the lead, but that it was either Oxford or Cambridge. If the talk of an Obama landslide is to be vindicated, it may take a while before it is known whether it is true.
Allowing for unforeseen circumstances, it may reasonably be expected that the first of the significant contested states to be heard from will Indiana, where most polls currently give McCain an advantage of varying degree, including within the margin of error.
Then follow, roughly, Florida, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Virginia. In the first, second and final states on this list, it will be key to see whether Obama's leads in the polls are translated into reality, notably the first and last.
Then, Ohio and West Virginia. As been rehearsed endlessly in recent times, we need no reminder that no Republican has won the presidency in recent times without winning Ohio. If McCain does not carry the home state of Joe the Plumber, it will be becoming clear that he will be making the call to Obama. Current polls out of Ohio suggest that this may be the case, suggesting leads for Obama varying from two to seven points in the contest for the state's 20 electoral votes.
Then Pennsylvania, where Obama's lead is estimated from between eight to 14 points, and a state that is crucial to a decisive Obama victory. And Missouri, a real cliffhanger. RealClearPolitics' latest estimate gives it to McCain by .4 points, and within that, Reuters/Zogby gives to Obama by one point. This is potential edge-of-the-seat stuff, whatever time zone you are watching the TV screen in, and if - yet another if - the shape of the electoral map has not been shaped by other results.
About an hour later, unless it is deemed to be all over by then (North Carolina, effectively also important to an Obama victory, now shows a tie according to polls) Colorado and New Mexico will come in, although in both states polls predict a comfortable lead for Obama.
For all the current frenzy of prediction, and for all the apparent indicators such as CNN's Poll of Polls, which gives Obama 51 per cent to McCain's 44 per cent with five per cent undecided, it cannot be forecast when the loser-to-winner phone call will be made. All that may be added is that, given the priority that the economic crisis means to the next president, clarity on key cabinet appointments from whichever camp wins, especially in the case of Obama, will emerge sooner than has become customary in recent US elections.
The winner will have history to deal with, a current history that no new president would have preferred to deal with, for all the rhetoric, and most of all, the president-elect will have just until January 20 next year to prepare for the kind of history he wants to make, or at least is capable of making.
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