Now we’re talking numbers. With President Obama back from … hang on … with Senator Obama back from his exclusive five-date stadium tour, Gallup Tracking has Obama running at nine points ahead, 49 to 40. The poll was taken between Wednesday and Friday last week – just after the sermon on the mount and before the announcement of the Thousand Year Nice in Berlin – and is significant because four weeks ago Gallup had the candidates at dead evens.

At that point, other polls were pinging all over the place, with Newsweek giving BO a 14-point lead, and then dropping it down to three, and the LA Times having him at 11s. Gallup, polling from registered rather than simply eligible voters, and using the largest sample — 3000 rather than 1500, which is what most pollsters rely on — would seem to be the most reliable.

Insofar as any of them are, this far out and in a voluntary voting system. Nevertheless the sheer profusion of polling, and the possibility of averaging them over, gives you a more dependable picture of what’s going on — and the RealClearPolitics average has Obama holding at a 4.8% lead. If you throw out a recent FOX news poll which had him leading at 1%, taken on 900 voters, most of them presumably FOX staffers, the average lead jumps to about 6.5%.

When you look at the swing states, the picture is even better for Mr Change. The only Democrat 2004 state under threat is New Hampshire, which was leaning to McCain by 1% — and even this has swung to a 4% Obama lead in the latest poll. Otherwise Obama is leading in the 2004 GOP states of New Mexico, Iowa, Nevada, Montana, Virginia, Indiana, and polls average to a dead heat in Florida, Ohio and Colorado. The next round of swing state polls will be extremely interesting – if Europe has given Obama a bump across the board, as Gallup suggests, then he will be looking at a presumption of around 310-330 electoral college votes (out of a total of 535).

And I’m saying all this at length because watching the coverage makes you wonder if you’re going stark staring mad. The problem is not the right wing spin slums who have long wobbled off into lala land, but the degree to which the mainstream press appears to be overcompensating against charges of being in love with Obama, which of course they are.

“Obama defends European tour” the headlines have played. The text of the story is rather different: Obama saying that the tour went “pretty well”. Nothing in his comments could be taken as “defending” the tour, rather than simply commenting on it, and there’s no sign that people have reacted negatively to it, in the “freedom fries” manner.

Every sign is that the sight of people in Europe waving American flags, without them actually being on fire, has had a positive effect on many Americans, who are growing weary of the “very well then, alone” stance. I suspect that once again Obama has taken a leaf from the community organising guru Saul Alinsky, who once observed that the most overlooked obvious truth of human nature is that people want to be loved, not hated, respected, not held in contempt, and that this is of immense significance for an organiser.

The right were correct to say that Obama being popular in Europe would be a problem at home. But he wasn’t. America was popular in Europe, and Obama was the form America came in. In the minds of many the trip will have thrown a switch, so that they unconsciously believe that Obama already is President. It’s all been a masterstroke, a spellbinding performance.

Of course it helped that John McCain had one of the worst weeks in the history of campaigning, a combination of bad luck and bad judgment, the former compounded by the latter. An oil rig visit in hurricane season (cancelled), a bumbling supermarket walk around (tripping over f—ing TV cables, as Keating used to say, or applesauce, in this case), a brace of foreign policy mis-speaks, were all careless, inept and had more than one news talk show asking whether there was serious restlessness in the GOP camp about the candidate.

The visit to a German restaurant as Obama addressed Berlin was clever — too clever by half. It had the neat symmetry of a smartarse advisor’s idea, rather than the simple contrast McCain required — home vs away, plain speaking vs sophisticated — and played into the grumpy Grandpa image (“Why are we going to the Brathaus again!” “Because grandpa likes sauerkraut! Shut up!”). Somewhere in New York, David Letterman was missing a segment idea.

The one half-win Team McCain might have had was in baiting the press over bias. It looked bad to the public, but in the longer run may have cowed the American media — so cowable you could hook up their t-ts and milk them — into greater scrutiny of Obama and less of McCain. It seems to be the product of McCain’s new campaign heavies from the Giuliani team — but it’s a pretty meagre bang for a big buck.

Much will depend upon how he handles the return of Obama, and a turn to domestic policy — i.e. crisis — as two more banks fail in Nevada and California. If Grumpy can’t lay one on the Little Prince, then he’s in deep deep trouble. There’s a half dozen more polls ready to hit the web. They wont all be bad. Some will be appalling.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey