By Brigitte L. Nacos
After watching the New York Marathon’s women’s and men’s races today, I couldn’t help but think of the presidential race. Paula Radcliffe of the United Kingdom was all the way in the lead and won decisively over Russia’s Ludmilla Pertrova. Compared to an election outcome, this would have been a landslide victory. It was a completely different story in the men’s race: Abderrahim Goumri of Morocco had a clear lead over the seemingly struggling Marilson Gomes dos Santos of Brazil in second place, but the Brazilian had a spectacular finish and passed the Moroccan with about a mile to go.
The news media’s overblown attention to opinion polls and the horse race aspect of election campaigns, especially when the presidency is at stake, has left the strong impression that Senator Obama’s quite comfortable lead in national polls during the last several weeks means victory on Election Day. This would be the equivalent of Radcliffe’s performance in today’s New York Marathon. But the Gomes de Santos versus Goumri scenario is equally as compelling and suggests that the trailing Senator McCain can still overtake the long-time leader and win. In other words, as Yogi Berra put it, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”
Contrary to most pundits, both McCain and Obama are aware that it may be hazardous to predict the outcome of Tuesday’s elections on polls. To be sure, one would rather be in Obama’s positions since most nationwide voter surveys have him with a substantial lead and leads in major so-called battleground states. But since the electoral votes of states in the Electoral College determine who will be the next U.S. president—not the nationwide popular vote—the focus must be on key states in which polls have Obama in the leads but McCain—increasingly—in striking distance
Here is the important part of the latest MSNBC analysis of the electoral map based on the latest polls:
“The numbers: Obama is ahead five points in Colorado (49%-44%), two in Florida (47%-45%), four in Nevada (47%-43%), and three points in Virginia (47%-44%). Meanwhile, McCain is up one in Missouri (47%-46%), three in North Carolina (49%-46%), and two in Ohio (47%-45%). The good news for Obama -- and bad news for McCain -- is that if Obama holds on to his leads in CO, FL, NV, and VA, he’s going to easily win on Tuesday, racking up well over 300 electoral votes. But the bad news for Obama -- and good news for McCain -- is that Obama is below 50% in all of these polls. And if undecideds break decisively for McCain, that’s how he would pull off the upset. But if the 2004 presidential contest taught us anything, it’s that turnout sometimes is more important than undecided voters. In our final NBC/WSJ poll before the 2004 election, Bush held a one-point lead over Kerry, 48%-47%. And there was the assumption that undecideds breaking for the challenger over the incumbent would propel Kerry to victory. But that didn’t happen.”
The different victory scenarios in today’s New York Marathon races and the experience of previous presidential races should teach us that, indeed, it isn’t over until the fat lady sings or all votes are counted.