Just in Case McCain Wins, a Survival Guide for Reporters Who Wrote Him Off

By Jack Shafer
Sunday, October 19, 2008

With Washington conventional wisdom predicting a landslide for Barack Obama, the 2008 election looks to be over. (Sorry, voters.) But how can a reporter prepare for the long-shot chance that John McCain -- the comeback geezer -- climbs that ladder with a load of bricks on his back one more time and wins in November? We've now heard plenty about the so-called Bradley effect, which holds that voters lie to pre-election pollsters about their intentions to vote for African American candidates. Here are some other angles for indemnification-minded journalists to pursue:

McCain's Michigan Miracle. The McCain campaign retreated from Michigan earlier this month when polls showed that it was impossible for him to win there. But could the new Obama margin be soft? If Obama and the Democrats take Michigan for granted, might that not depress turnout and give the state to McCain? If voters take an Obama victory for granted, might they give the ballot box a bye? Emergency sources to contact: Michigan Republicans, Sarah Palin and David Gergen.

The Economy Boomerang. The wiggy economy helps explain some of the recent Obama surge. But what if the massive intervention of government into markets quiets voters' nerves? Emergency sources to contact: Jim Cramer, Alan Greenspan, James Carville and David Gergen.

New Voter No-Shows. The number of registered Democrats is up 5 percent from 2004, says the Associated Press, and the GOP has lost 2 percent of its registered voters. But getting new voters to the polling stations is harder than getting seasoned ones there. How many new voters who won't actually vote are reflected in the polls? Emergency sources to contact: Peter Nardulli, Alan I. Abramowitz, Henry Brady (presidential voting-patterns scholars) and David Gergen.

Corollary: The Undecideds Weren't Really Undecided. They were really for McCain. Emergency sources to contact: the Gallup Poll's Jeff Jones, Scott Keeter at Pew, and David Gergen.

The Curse of Bob Shrum. Campaign consultant Robert Shrum has never put one of his clients into the White House (Dick Gephardt, Michael Dukakis, Bob Kerrey, Al Gore, John Kerry). Is the Shrum curse strong enough to turn his mere prediction of an Obama victory into a defeat? Emergency sources to contact: Shrum, Mickey Kaus, Joe Klein, palm readers, Ouija boards and David Gergen.

The Obama Bubble. The dot-coms turned out to be a speculative bubble. Real estate turned out to be a bubble. The stock market turned out to be a bubble. What if all that Obama support is really a bubble, and his November collapse is really a puncture? Emergency sources to contact: Daniel Gross of Slate and Newsweek, Charles Krauthammer and David Gergen.

National Security, Domestic Security and Other October Surprises. A dirty bomb detonates in a swing-state stadium during an NFL game. A Predator missile whacks Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden whacks New York. Tony Rezko drops a dime on Obama. Iran tests a bomb. Israel attacks Iran. Jihadists who have seen "Dr. Strangelove" 15 or 16 times topple Pakistan. Emergency sources to contact: Peter Bergen, Arianna Huffington, Daniel Benjamin, Henry Kissinger, John Kerry and David Gergen -- if he's not too busy.


Jack Shafer is Slate's editor at large.

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