Dan and Dave Weigel seem to have read too much into my post on those New Hampshire poll results, but that is partly my fault when I put the word doom in the title. I don’t know whether Wright has fatally wounded Obama, and after many repeated, spectacular wrong calls in this election (remember the famous Thompson v. Clinton showdown?) I really try to stay out of the prediction business these days. It strikes me as significant that there has been a 23-point swing against Obama in two months in a state that is considered to be Democratic-leaning. I didn’t mean to say by this that Obama is necessarily “finished,” but New Hampshire does offer a case where Obama should have most of the advantages and has lost ground to someone who represents the continuation of all the things that most people in New Hampshire oppose. If we want to see how a McCain victory could happen, New Hampshire’s polling movement may be instructive.
Then again, I am probably more easily persuaded than most that Obama has suffered irreparable damage, since I already assumed him to be a weak general election candidate. Back at the height of the enthusiasm for Obama, I brazenly declared that the Democrats had marched themselves off a cliff, but at the time I was thinking of Obama’s problems mostly in terms of the more conventional baggage of being inexperienced and far to the left. A week before that, I had already made what was probably one of the first Obama-as-McGovern ’72 arguments, and I was assuming this to be the case well before Wright exploded onto the national scene, to say nothing of the San Francisco “cling” remarks.
All that said, there is no way to know whether campaigns are finished in this cycle–I assumed McCain’s was finished months ago, and that was very wrong. After Obama had won all of the contests after February 5, everyone assumed that Clinton was on the verge of elimination, but she keeps going. Three months ago, people were talking as if Obama could transmute lead into gold, and perhaps in another three months things will have changed around completely and the structual advantages for the Democrats will take over and give them a huge lead. One reason I am skeptical of this is that challengers, which has typically meant Democratic candidates in the last 30 years, usually poll strongly early on and then keep losing ground. There is always a convention bounce, but the challenger typically suffers an overall loss of support as the campaign grinds on. The ’08 cycle has not reliably followed previous patterns because of the changes in the primary calendar and the sheer length of the campaign, so none of that may matter, but we have no reason to think that the Democratic nominee will substantially gain lasting support in the remaining months of the campaign.