JACKSON, Tenn. – Oct. 23, 2008 – Barring a late comeback by John McCain, all indications are that Barack Obama will be the next president of the United States, NBC correspondent Norah O’Donnell said at Union University Oct. 22.
O’Donnell, the chief Washington correspondent for MSNBC, was the keynote speaker for Union’s 10th annual Union Forum. She cited the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll giving Obama a double-digit lead over McCain, and she listed specific fundamentals that point to a Democratic victory.
“More than 80 percent of this country believes this country is headed in the wrong direction,” O’Donnell said. “The president and Congress have record-low approval ratings. Americans have lost more than $2 trillion in their investment and retirement savings. … This country wants change, and that favors the party that is not in power in the White House.”
But despite the fundamental advantages, O’Donnell said Obama has been unable to lock up the win, and she attributes that to McCain’s appeal.
“A lot of experts say that John McCain is the best Republican the Republican Party could have nominated in a year like this,” she said.
Still, O’Donnell said Obama’s lead is widening for a couple of reasons – the economic climate and the debates. O’Donnell pointed to focus groups as evidence that many independent voters didn’t like McCain’s tone during the debates, and she said that McCain has struggled to find a consistent message on the economy.
In an NBC News poll, Obama has a 14-point lead on the question, “Who would you most trust with your taxes?”
“That’s stunning,” O’Donnell said. “That is traditionally the Republicans’ advantage, when it comes to taxes.
O’Donnell also cited other factors helping Obama. She said Colin Powell’s endorsement was a boost, and Obama holds a significant fundraising advantage -- $134 million in his campaign war chest to McCain’s $47 million.
In addition, Obama has taken advantage of the Internet in unprecedented ways for campaigning and fundraising, O’Donnell said. He has used sites such as Facebook and technology such as text messaging to reach younger voters, and has ushered in a “new era” in how political candidates will use such technology and social networking capabilities in the future.
Showing an electoral map projection by NBC News, O’Donnell said NBC gives Obama a 264-163 advantage in the Electoral College. To win, a candidate must receive 270 electoral votes.
“The political winds are at Obama’s back,” O’Donnell said. “He’s currently playing offense on this map. He is ahead or tied in at least 10 states that Bush won in 2004. Those are red states.”
McCain, meanwhile, is playing defense, she said.
“The McCain campaign is now looking at an Electoral College strategy that essentially has no room for error,” O’Donnell said. “He’ll need a dramatic comeback in Pennsylvania in order to win. Pennsylvania has not backed Republicans in 20 years.”
O’Donnell also discussed the so-called “Bradley effect,” named after former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley who ran for California governor in 1982. Bradley, a black candidate, was leading in the polls up to the election, but yet lost the race. The “Bradley effect” suggests that some people will tell pollsters they will support a black candidate for office, but hesitate to do so when they step into the voting booth.
O’Donnell said some experts don’t expect that effect to come into play in this election for various reasons. They say, for starters, that election was 26 years ago, and the United States is less racist now than it was then.
Polling has also improved since then, O’Donnell argued, and some experts even think a reverse “Bradley effect” may take place this year, with record numbers of black voters turning out to support Obama.
Regardless of the outcome, O’Donnell said the 2008 election is a historic one. It is the first time since 1952 that the presidential campaign does not include an incumbent president or vice president seeking the office. The election is also historic because it will result in the first black president, the oldest president or the first woman vice president.
The Union Forum luncheon was the first event in the new Carl Grant Events Center on the Union campus. For the past nine years, Union has hosted the nation’s top speakers for an inside look at topics such as business, politics and international affairs. Previous speakers have included William Kristol, Margaret Carlson, Juan Williams, Stephen Carter, Mark Shields, David Brooks, Fred Barnes, Robert Novak, Michael Medved and Clarence Page, among others.