Bright Shiny States

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ON A BUS NEAR NEW PHILADELPHIA, OHIO–There is a theory of political consulting that puts great value in bright shiny objects, those sparkly ideas, issues or tactics that can distract the press (and the voters) to deliver a message. The McCain campaign does this a lot: all that hubbub about ACORN registration fraud, for instance, or declaring a fatwa on the Los Angeles Times for the sin of keeping its promise to a source.

But the Obama campaign is not immune either. Campaign Manager David Plouffe’s announcement today of new television ad buys in North Dakota, Arizona and Georgia can be put in this category. Obama does have an outside chance to win one or more of those states. But if he wins any one of them, he will almost certainly win in a lot of other places as well, with more than enough electoral votes to waltz into the White House. The real reason to announce new ads there is to distract the news cycle with bright shiny memes: Obama still has lots of money! Cold red states don’t hate Obama! McCain is in so much trouble he might lose his homestate! Obama has momentum!

As a rule, the problem with the bright shiny object is that it is not itself evidence of any light source. Polling in Arizona shows McCain up anywhere from 2 to 7 points over five polls taken since October 23. (RCP average: +5.2)  In Georgia, McCain is up 1 to 6 points since October 22. (RCP average: +4.2) In North Dakota, McCain is either down 4 points, up 14 points, or something in between. (RCP average: Tie)

McCain’s advisers, for what it’s worth, say they aren’t worried about those states. (They have other more pressing concerns.) “Look, I mean they have a lot of money, and we don’t,” said top McCain strategist Steve Schmidt, after a rally in Hanoverton, Ohio. “They have a lot of extra money to spend, and if they wanted to they could put it in all 50 states. At the end of the day, I don’t think those decisions have anything to do about the campaign.”