Throw out the polls. All of them. Throw out the ones that show Sen. Barack Obama cruising to a Reaganesque landslide over Sen. John McCain. Throw out the ones that show Sen. McCain making a Trumanesque comeback. Throw out the state polls. Throw out the exit polls, when they are conducted. Throw them all out. The fact is that no pollster truly knows what is going on this election cycle, because this election is unlike any other in the nation's recent history.
Never before has there been such a disparity in experience between the two candidates. Sen. John McCain has been in Congress for twenty-six years, twenty-two of them in the Senate. He has debated and voted on every conceivable issue in which the federal government can become involved. He has served as the chairman of committees, and been on the investigative end of them, too. He has done everything a legislator can do to become prepared for the office of president. Sen. Obama is a relative neophyte in political experience. He has only held elective office since 1997, and has yet to complete his first term as a U.S. Senator. He has never held an executive position in government. Even John F. Kennedy, who was elected president at the tender age of 43, was a veritable paragon of political experience compared to Obama. Kennedy had already served three terms in the House and been elected to two Senate terms before winning the White House. He had also served as the captain of a Naval vessel during World War II, important executive experience for a man running to be commander-in-chief of the armed forces. Given the degree of difference in the two candidates' levels of experience, there simply is no telling how it will affect voters when they step into the sanctity of the voting booth.
Never before has there been an election in the midst of the kind of financial turmoil that the nation has undergone since mid-September, with the possible exception of 1932. But this year, the economy has made such a radical turn so close to the presidential election. And there is just no reliable gauge of how it will affect votes. The incumbent president in 1932 was Herbert Hoover. He was perhaps the most unpopular president ever to run for reelection, as most of the country blamed him for sitting on his hands as the nation sank into the Great Depression. Today, most voters blame George W. Bush for the nation's economic woes, but Bush is not on the ballot. Sen. Obama has been trying hard to put him there, in the person of John McCain. It is anybody's guess whether voters will make that connection when it comes time to mark their ballots.
Lastly, the country is embroiled in a war overseas. There have been elections during wars before, including during the Civil War. But there has never been a presidential election in modern times when one candidate promised a full scale retreat from the battlefield, while the other promised staying the course. Even Richard Nixon in 1968 campaigned on a having a "solution" for the Vietnam War. But Vietnam was not an existential threat to the United States like the war on terrorism is. Voters in 1968 were not envisioning a wave of Viet Cong storming beaches in California as a result of an American pullout. Nobody can predict just what voters expect will happen if the U.S. disengages in the battle against radical Islamic extremists just seven years out from September 11th. That factor could swing votes on Election Day in ways that the polls have not picked up upon.
Those are some of the reasons that this election is unlike any other in recent American history. With them in mind, I'll take a look at what actual voters may do on Tuesday, and make my predictions.
Tuesday is going to be a day of surprises. That is almost certain. Either Sen. Barack Obama will score a victory of even greater proportions than his cheerleaders in the mainstream press are predicting, or America is in for another bleary-eyed Wednesday after an election. I expect that it will be the latter. The election is surely closer than the 10-15 point margin envisioned by most media polls, and could come down to a single state, just like each of the last two presidential elections.
Sen. Obama will win the popular vote, thanks in large measure to 30-point victories in liberal bastions like California, New York, and Illinois. McCain will have his thirty point wins, too, in places like Oklahoma and Mississippi, but the relatively small populations of those states will not move the national numbers much. But as Democrats know all too well, America does not elect presidents on the strength of popular vote majorities. It is the Electoral College that matters, and here the difference between the candidates will be razor thin. Each candidate will score a surprise victory in at least one state. For Sen. Obama, that state could be Indiana, or North Carolina. For McCain, it could be Minnesota or Pennsylvania. But there will be at least one on each side. Add to that the very real possibility that McCain could pick up an electoral vote in Maine. Maine is one of two states that apportions electoral votes based in part on the winner of each congressional district. McCain could lose Maine, but still pick up an Elector.
The final Electoral Vote tally will be 275-263 for McCain. McCain will win Pennsylvania and keep Virginia in Republican hands, as Sen. Obama's comments about "bankrupting" the coal industry come back to haunt him in the nation's coal mining heartland. Obama will wrest Missouri, Colorado, and New Mexico from McCain, but will be unable to overcome historical Republican advantages in North Carolina, Indiana, Ohio, and Florida.
But Sen. McCain will not have coattails for Republicans in the Congressional races. Republicans will lose a net of 15 seats in the House, although they will claim the seats of Rep. Jack Murtha (D-PA), and Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D-PA) as trophies. In the Senate, Democrats will also make gains, picking up a net 5 seats to bring their majority to 55. Currently, Democrats have 51 Senators in their caucus, but Sen. Joe Lieberman will take a place in President McCain's cabinet, and his successor will be appointed by Republican Governor Jodi Rell.
It has been a long and exhausting two year campaign. Hopefully, whatever happens on Tuesday, Americans will be able to set aside their partisan differences and support the new administration. The nation is truly weary of the bitter partisanship that was exhibited especially in the wake of the 2000 election. Sen. McCain will deserve the respect that comes with winning an election fair and square. The challenges and dangers facing the nation are just too great and leave no room for endless bickering. America has always risen above her political differences to achieve great things. May this year be no different.