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When the history of campaign 2008 is written, the single pivotal event of that nearly two-year slog may be the Wall Street meltdown and the associated taxpayer bailouts and effective nationalization of mortgage underwriting.
The beneficiary, at least so far, is Democrat Barack Obama. Neither candidate has been particularly strong on how to weather the economic storm, but a new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that the voters put slightly more faith in Obama than John McCain, who has stumbled badly, most particularly when he observed with Hooverish echoes as the stock market was going over a cliff that the fundamentals of the economy were still strong.
The voters don’t share that view. The Post-ABC poll said that the 9 percent who thought the economy was in good shape was the first time economic optimism had fallen to single digits since 1992 and that 14 percent who thought the country was heading in the right direction was the lowest since 1973. Half the voters now think the economy is the single most important issue of the campaign.
The upshot is that in a race that polls have shown teetering back and forth within the margin of error Obama now has a clear lead, 52 percent to 43 percent among likely voters. Coming off the GOP convention, McCain gained steadily in this poll, narrowing an already narrow margin until he passed Obama, 49 percent to 47 percent, in early September. And then the voters began waking up to the significance of the events on Wall Street.
The poll also showed that the novelty of Sarah Palin may be wearing off. She is still, as the Post points out, enormously popular but her unfavorable rating has risen 10 points to 38 percent and her approval rating among independent voters has fallen from 60 percent to 48 percent with the fall off — 65 percent to 43 percent — among independent women voters.
This suggests that the McCain campaign’s strategy of keeping Palin wrapped in a protective bubble has run its course. At some stage it becomes hiding and raises the question of how she ready she really is to be vice president. If the economy is to be the central issue of the campaign, who better to talk about it than a working mother of five?
The Clinton campaign rode into office with a smile mantra, "It’s the economy, stupid." It still is.