Almost precisely at the midpoint between the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3 and the general election on Nov. 4, the general election campaign is on. Neither party's nominee swept the primaries. John McCain's narrow popular vote margins in New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida and most of the Super Tuesday states, combined with the Republicans' winner-take-all delegate allocation rules, effectively gave him the Republican nomination on Feb. 6. Mike Huckabee made it official by withdrawing after the March 4 Texas and Ohio primaries.
Barack Obama's big delegate margins in caucus states, combined with Democrats' proportionate representation rules, gave him what proved to be an insurmountable lead in February, when he won 11 straight contests. Hillary Clinton carried the popular vote (unless you allocate all the "uncommitted" votes in Michigan to Obama), but could not overtake Obama's delegate lead. The super-delegates gave Obama a delegate majority by the evening of the last primaries on June 3. It took Clinton another 24 hours to decide to end her candidacy, after it became clear that Obama wouldn't be stampeded into making her his vice presidential nominee.
So who's going to win? In a parliamentary system, the answer would be easy: Obama. Voters prefer Democrats to Republicans generically. In Senate races, Democrats could conceivably gain 10 seats, and a theoretically veto-proof majority, if all the possibly close races go their way. In the House, Democrats' three special election victories in seats that, based on their performance in the 1996-2004 period, were safely Republican suggest that they could make similarly impressive gains. In no seat do the Republicans seem incapable of losing.
On the presidency, it's a different story. The most recent polls collected by realclearpolitics.com show Obama leading McCain by an average of 47 percent to 45 percent. That's just about the same as Obama's average lead of 47 percent to 44 percent in the 43 national polls taken since ABC and Fox News aired the Rev. Jeremiah Wright tapes on March 13 and a little less than his average lead of 48 percent to 43 percent in the 15 national polls taken after Super Tuesday and before March 13.
But the popular vote is one thing and the electoral vote, as we learned eight years ago, may be another. In all the statewide public polls taken in February, March, April and May, McCain leads Obama in 29 states with 281 electoral votes and Obama leads McCain in 21 states with 254 electoral votes (add 3 more for the District of Columbia, which nobody bothered to poll).