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October 29th, 2008 HENRY STERN | Q & A
 

Michael Tomasky

A national political commentator looks back on his forecasts for 2008, and gives us one more for election day.

     
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The predictor: Michael Tomasky.

Michael Tomasky makes his living as a political commentator and editor of Guardian America, a year-old online version of the 187-year-old British newspaper for readers interested in America.

But Tomasky’s passions on his blog also run toward sports, with posts this political season that include musings about “The Barack Obama of Baseball” (Tampa Bay pitcher David Price, according to Tomasky).

So two things probably shouldn’t have been surprising when WW called Tomasky for a phone interview in advance of his appearance Wednesday, Oct. 29, in Portland to discuss the election as part of a tour sponsored by Guardian America and The New York Review of Books.

One, he likened his batting average for prescient political commentary to the regular-season winning percentage for baseball’s World Series teams—both Philadelphia and Tampa Bay won less than 60 percent of their games. And two, he spoke while driving to see his beloved home-state West Virginia University host Auburn in football.

We assume Tomasky, 48, will be in a good mood when he gets to Portland. West Virginia crushed Auburn 34-17. As to whether Barack Obama will do the same to John McCain on Nov. 4, Tomasky said....

Are you assuming the majority of the polls are right and McCain has no chance?

No. He doesn’t have momentum right now. But nothing’s over until it’s over. He could somehow catch fire. There could be some unforeseen event or national crisis we can’t know or anticipate. That could change the dynamic. Short of those two things, Obama is starting to have the smell of a winner about him. And McCain is starting to have the odor of a loser. And people can smell that over time.

Are you a believer in the Bradley Effect (where polls overstate support for American American candidates)?

It’s still there but it will vary from state to state. In some cases, it will be offset by the massive voter turnout campaign for Obama.

You’re from West Virginia, right?

I am. And I’m here right now in Morgantown. There’s a big game tonight. We play Auburn.

So as a native, how do you think Obama will do in your home state?

I think West Virginia will end up voting for McCain. The economic crisis gave Obama a chance. And of course Obama has enough money to burn that if he decided to put a few million dollars here, he can afford it. But I’ve been in the state for about 25 minutes and I’ve been listening to AM talk radio and I’ve already heard about four commercials about how Barack Obama is going to take away your guns.

What’s surprised you most about the campaign?

How unsteady McCain’s campaign has been. He’s run a pretty bad campaign that really didn’t have an underlying consistent argument. The most surprising thing has been their emphasis on the short-term gain. Look at the timing of the Palin announcement [the day after the Democratic National Convention ended]—to deny Obama the traditional post-convention bounce and get short-term headlines. But substantively it was obviously done too fast without McCain vetting her, without thinking of the long-term consequences.

Looking back on your coverage, give me one forecast you regret.

Political commentary is not a perfect science. The Phillies and the Rays won about 58 percent of their games. Political punditry is like baseball—it’s about 58 percent. Actually, I’ve made some pretty decent predictions. A long time ago, I argued that Obama was the most electable of the three major [Democratic] candidates. It was mostly process of elimination. It’s not to say he doesn’t have liabilities, but he has fewer. Hillary always struck me as having a big problem with independent voters. With Edwards, I just thought he was too liberal.

Where were you least prescient?

I didn’t think McCain was going to be the nominee. I thought Giuliani was. I thought he had a really good profile for this particular moment, a strong anti-terrorism profile but a moderate record by Republican standards on economic and social questions.

As somebody who started in print and now blogs a lot, what do you think that trend has meant for political coverage?

I really like the immediacy of it. But it took me a while to embrace it because I was a column guy. I thought a column was how to express yourself.... Blogs are analogous to daily conversation.


FACT: Tomasky—an author of one book about the American left and another about Hillary Clinton—has also worked as executive editor of The American Prospect magazine and a columnist at New York magazine.

GO: Tomasky will speak at Powell’s City of Books, 1005 W Burnside St., 228-4651. 7:30 pm Wednesday, Oct. 29. Joining him will be Thomas Powers, a frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books and author of The Military Error; and Guardian columnist Gary Younge. Free.

 
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