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Todd: Can McCain close?

Some folks will view the latest polling memo from McCain's pollster as nothing more than rose-colored spin to prop up Republicans before Election Day. But you'd be a fool to dismiss it out of hand.
/ Source: NBC News

A number of folks will view the polling memo from John McCain's pollster, Bill McInturff, as nothing more than rose-colored spin in order to prop up the Republican mindset in the days before Election Day.

But you'd be a fool to dismiss it out of hand.

First of all, it's hard to imagine this race not tightening. Why? Just take a look at the remaining undecided voters.

These are folks who, four years ago, voted mostly Republican. They are undecided now because they are upset with Bush and upset with the economy. But they are not yet on board when it comes to voting for Obama, either because of his party I.D., or his race, but mostly because of the fact that he's a Democrat.

The question all of us in the analyst community are trying to figure out is, will these undecided Republican-leaning voters show up and vote McCain? Or will they stay home?

If they show up and vote, then Obama's margins will shrink dramatically because McCain — as I've argued before — will garner some 70+ percent of the undecided vote.

What does this mean for the map? It puts a lot of states into too close to call territory, including North Carolina, Florida, Indiana, Ohio, Missouri and Nevada.

The problem McCain has is that a movement of undecided voters toward him might not be enough to stop Obama in Colorado, Virginia and Pennsylvania. And it is in those three states in particular that McCain has to make serious progress in order to turn his goal of reaching 260 electoral votes (not out of the question) into a goal of actually reaching 270.

Clearly, the McCain campaign is counting on something happening in Virginia or Pennsylvania, as a lot of new money and candidate time is being poured into both states.

But will it be enough?

The good news for the Republican Party right now? If McCain does start getting to 46 percent or above nationally and he wins some of the battleground states, he'll save some House and Senate seats. But more importantly, he'll improve the morale of the party.

And that's in part what this McInturff memo was intended to do — boost the spirits of the Republican partisans.

The campaign and the party are taking a beating in the press right now. Pre-bituaries run on a near hourly basis. Things are certainly grim for the party, particularly when you look at the landscape from 30,000 feet. From that far up, this election looks like a disaster in the making for the party. But as you get closer to the surface, there are faint rays of hope.

While a five-point race is normally considered a margin of error race at the state level, nationally a five-point race is an electoral landslide. But a three-point race nationally makes for a closer electoral college result, and a longer election night.

Would it shock me to see many of the national polls come in under 6 points by Monday night? No.

The evidence McInturff points to is correct. This race will likely close.

If it does not, it will mean a couple of things:

  • The undecided Republican voters decided to stay home
  • The turnout among young voters and African-Americans was even higher than anticipated.

If one were trying to create a predictive model of the most likely scenario, McInturff's memo isn't too far off. Remember, no Democrat has received more than 51 percent vote since LBJ in '64. Obama's challenge is more than race, he's running against more than 40 years of Republican domination of the national electorate.

Yogi's right. It's never over 'til it's over.

But McCain is attempting to do what no presidential candidate in a similar position has managed to pull off (forget Truman, the polls were way off).

If he does pull it off, it would be truly uncharted territory.

But that's the beauty of politics. Sometimes anything does happen.

At a minimum, don't be surprised if the race closes. It would be a bigger upset if Obama won by 10 points than if McCain won by one.