It's really simple. While the campaign still has a few weeks left to run, and we still have another one of those "debates" to go through (they aren't really debates, you know; they're an opportunity for the candidates to sit around and tell people via teleprompter what their policies might be if elected; debates are about ideas, and American politicians aren't really big on ideas), but for all intents and purposes, this election is Barack Obama's to lose at this point. Which is not to say that he can't. For thirty-six years, Democrats have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory (in 1972, for example, Richard Nixon was pretty unpopular; Sen. Ed Muskie of Maine had been ahead of Nixon in poll after poll for a year; after tanking in New Hampshire with some help from Nixon's plumbers and rat-fuckers, the Democrats went on to pick a congenial, undisciplined loser in George McGovern; this patter would repeat itself sixteen years later when Michael Dukakis blew a huge lead over Vice President Bush). Yet, Obama's whole campaign has been so disciplined, from the very beginning almost two years ago, that I find it difficult to believe it could stumble at this point.
For those Republicans who are quick to blame the financial/credit crisis as being a hindrance for McCain, it is important to remember that is true only if one believes that Democrats are inherently better at managing these kinds of crises than Republicans are. In other words, to claim something like, "McCain would be winning if we hadn't had the financial meltdown," is to claim that Republicans can't or didn't handle this particular bit of public flailing well.
In actual fact, McCain lost this race on a number of fronts. First and foremost, he picked Sarah Palin as his running mate. Only die-hard Republican supporters have not noticed that she has become a bit of a joke - albeit a scary one; that she and her running mate will lose have made her more of a pathetic joke now - but, the initial choice showed that McCain had contempt for his party, the office he was seeking, and the American people in general. Immediately after that, his campaign launched a series of ads and speeches that were so untruthful, so filled with bombast and nonsense that McCain lost the one advantage he really had - the support of the Washington pundits (except for David Broder). With no one in the elite press corps willing to have his back anymore because of the abundance of downright sleazy lying he's done - and his unwillingness to directly confront Obama with the various charges he is leveling against him - McCain has nowhere to turn.
One last thing. George W. Bush has done the country a great service in a way. By taking Republican ideology to its logical conclusion both in theory and in practice, he has ended any illusions Americans have that "conservative rule" is anything other than a bad joke. His unpopularity, clear everywhere except on national news where it is noted without comment or context, has destroyed the Republican Party, as can be seen by the potential for serious Democratic gains in both houses of Congress and by the fact that Obama is in play in North Carolina, Indiana, and Nebraska, and is headed for a win in Virginia and Florida (Ohio seems to be the one state in the nation seriously up for grabs). I think his popular vote margin will be substantial without being a landslide. His Electoral College win will be substantive without being overwhelming. But, and this is a big but, this, too, could change, especially as one considers the big wins by populist Democrats two years ago in Montana (John Tester) and the potential strength of Obama's message in hard-hit rural areas. McCain may be playing the character assassination card, but this only works well with an already-comfortable lead. His poll numbers continue to drop, however, so in the long run, his torch-light rallies will only turn off more and more voters.
I know I'm writing this obituary twenty-six days early, but in fact, I think it's accurate enough to stand up to what happens on November 4th.