Barack Obama got a boost when Prime Minister al-Maliki of Iraq agreed with his timetable for withdrawing troops from Iraq. He also looked effective in dealing with foreign leaders. But the fact that Obama only got a "little noodge" of 3% and 8% in the daily tracking polls revived questions about his ability to "close the deal." Novak suggests that McCain might be able to "back his way into the presidency" without doing anything to inspire enthusiasm among voters.
But Obama could "back into" the presidency as well.
Obama would still win if he stayed at 48-49% of the vote, John McCain got 47%, and the rest was split among Bob Barr, Ralph Nader, and the really minor candidates. It may be that all Obama has to do is continue to pursue successful campaign initiatives like his overseas trip, defend himself against McCain's attacks, and protect his lead. That's essentially what happened during the Democratic primaries. Obama never had a big lead after the Iowa caucuses but he made sure that his small lead over Hillary Clinton was decisive.
The conventional wisdom is that McCain might be able to back into the presidency if he runs a harshly negative campaign that depresses Obama's support.
But that hasn't worked so far.
McCain's campaign has been so unorganized, dispirited, and tone deaf that Republicans are just about ready to wave the white flag of surrender. Here's conservative writer Ben Stein:
"Mr. McCain is running the absolute most pathetic campaign I have ever seen in my whole life . . . His campaign is just heartbreakingly pathetic. He is a very impressive guy. He is a brave guy, but he is running the most lackluster campaign I have ever seen in my entire life. I would have thought Bob Dole's campaign would have set a record for poor campaigns, but this one is even worse. I mean it is shocking."
McCain's team was particularly inept while Obama was overseas and produced visuals of McCain riding in a golf cart with George Bush sr. and fumbling over spilled groceries while Obama was effectively posing as a world leader. Moreover, it often seems like McCain and his surrogates are competing with each other to see who can make the most damaging gaffes.
Obama still has to deal with the various questions that the media is raising about his relative youth, inexperience, appearance of arrogance, flip-flopping, and rigidity. The fact that Obama is questioned for both flip-flopping and rigidity is an indication of the self-contradictory character of many media criticisms.
But McCain is still behind. If he stays behind, McCain's going to have to provide reasons for undecided voters and weak Obama supporters to want John McCain to be president. He hasn't succeeded in doing so to date.