The 2008 election cycle enters its final weekend with a clear frontrunner: Barack Obama. It seems as if the United States are well under way to elect their first African-American President. Or are they? While most indicators point to a landslide election victory for Barack Obama, the race isn't yet over, and here is why: Much is being made of the Bradley-effect, which basically points to inaccurate polling numbers, as voters hide their real voting intentions for reasons that could be associated with racism. Most commentators, however, maintain that the United States changed considerably since the so called Bradley-effect was discovered in California in the early 1980s, some even argue that there might be a reverse-Bradley-effect, citing the likelihood of higher African-American voter turn-out. While the latter claim sounds reasonable, it is striking that no political observer pointed out that the Bradley-effect might even be of more importance than in the 1980s simply because this time the highest office the United States have to offer is at stake.
But assuming most polls are more or less accurate, Obama seems to have wrapped it up. So what, if anything, went wrong for McCain?
First: While many will certainly point to a lackluster performance of both McCain and more importantly his VP-candidate Sarah Palin, one should remember that no other Republican ticket could have kept the race this close. It was McCains Maverick-image that allowed him to run against his own party's president and it was Sarah Palin who delivered the party's base. With an unpopular incumbent in the White House, an economic crisis unfolding, this race might have simply been impossible to win for any GOP-candidate. Against this backdrop John McCain run a hell of a campaign.
Second: Let McCain be McCain. The campaign of John McCain failed to learn the lessons from Hillary Clinton's unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination. Over months Clinton tried to bring down Obama by questioning his credentials, his experience and his associations. But in order to fight a visionary candidate, McCain would have needed to run a positive, visionary campaign himself. Instead he risked his own legacy as Washington's last honourable Senator by allowing his campaign to go negative. In the present environment, Americans did not look for a candidate by party-affiliations, they wanted a candidate who restored Americas image and its most important brand: hope. John McCain could well have been this candidate by sticking to a positive campaign.
Third: Much is being made of McCains failure to do well in the Swing States, such as Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. But what probably cost him the election was not an underperformance in the Swing States, it was his failure to secure momentum in the red states. The mere fact that states such as Arizona (his home state), Georgia, North Dakota and Montana are considered toss-up States that close to the election is telling. The key to McCains failure and the GOPs future is to be found here: in the red states.