Obama Lead Solidifies Going into 2nd Debate

Barack Obama and Joe Biden continue to pull away from John McCain and Sarah Palin in the national polls, bolstered by the economic crisis and superior performances in the first two debates.  The new WSJ/NBC poll parallels recent findings:

Voters were much more likely to say they felt good about Sen. Obama’s handling of the current economic crisis than they were to say the same of Sen. McCain. About one in three voters said they were “more reassured” by Sen. Obama versus just 25% who said that about Sen. McCain. Even worse, 38% of poll participants reported being “less reassured” by Sen. McCain’s approach.

Sens. Obama and Biden have a six-point lead, with 49% of registered voters saying they would vote for them, compared with 43% for Sen. McCain and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. That is up from a two-point advantage in the previous Journal poll, two weeks ago, and parallels other recent national polls. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.

“McCain has absorbed a very tough one-two punch — the financial crisis, then the debates,” said Neil Newhouse, a Republican pollster who conducts the survey with Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart. “These two things have clearly led to a momentum shift in this campaign where Obama has started to slowly stretch his lead.”

Independent voters are among the most important voting blocs because many of them would consider voting for either candidate. In the Journal/NBC poll two weeks ago, independents favored Sen. McCain by 13 points. The new survey finds Sen. Obama leading by four points.

The highlighted portion is the key: That’s a huge swing among independents in short order.  The good news for McCain is that these people are obviously changable; the bad news is that the election is four weeks away and there are not going to be many more opportunities for the proverbial “game changer.”

Slate‘s John Dickerson notes that tonight’s town hall style debate may be a good one because they’re so much more unpredictable than the standard moderated debates.

“Ponytail Guy” is the term some in political circles use to refer to Denton Walthall, who asked a question in the second presidential debate in 1992. A domestic mediator who worked with children, Walthall scolded President George H.W. Bush for running a mudslinging, character-based campaign against Bill Clinton in 1992. Referring to voters as “symbolically the children of the future president,” he asked how voters could expect the candidates “to meet our needs, the needs in housing and in crime and you name it, as opposed to the wants of your political spin doctors and your political parties. … Could we cross our hearts? It sounds silly here but could we make a commitment? You know, we’re not under oath at this point, but could you make a commitment to the citizens of the U.S. to meet our needs—and we have many—and not yours again?”

It was an imbecilic question but, as Dickerson notes, the candidates took it seriously and it played into Clinton’s hands.  As for tonight:

It might be a snooze-fest, full of earnest questions and foggy bromides. But with the spike in negativity coming just ahead of the meeting, there is a chance that one of the two candidates will have to face a question about the harsh tone.

There’s been a lot of talk recently about Joe Six-Pack. How will he vote? What does he want? One thing we know: You don’t want Joe Six Pack calling you out. Questions from regular voters are hard enough for politicians to handle—they can’t be ignored as easily as journalists’ questions—but as the campaign turns ugly, the candidates have to worry about questioners passing judgment.

McCain tends to be very good in this format but he can be uneven.  During the Michigan primaries, for example, he was dead right but came off as insensitive when he told an auto worker that there wasn’t much a president could do to save his job.   Obama is much better at the “symbolic national daddy” pose.

Its should be worth watching, at any rate.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    About one in three voters said they were “more reassured” by Sen. Obama versus

    Which means about two thirds were less than “more reassured” by Sen. Obama

    In the Journal/NBC poll two weeks ago, independents favored Sen. McCain by 13 points. The new survey finds Sen. Obama leading by four points.

    And how many of those independents, which are estimated to be around one third of the voters, would vote for NOTA (none of the above)?