The hidden story of the last week has been the shift in many states and nationwide among the youngest of voters, those ages 18-to-29, from a solid entrenchment in the Obama camp to a significant drift toward a newly revived John McCain effort, all courtesy of Gov. Sarah Palin.
Our survey approach keeps young respondents from being interviewed by young interviewers, thus avoiding the inevitable pressure a youthful poll respondent might feel to "fit in" and claim to be a supporter of Obama. As a result, younger voters, while still favoring Obama, have moved to the McCain column in not insubstantial numbers. Exit polls showed that among this group of voters, John Kerry carried their vote by roughly a 55 percent to 45 percent margin. But that was close enough to allow Bush to win the 2004 election by a fairly comfortable margin.
Does this phenomenon really surprise us? It shouldn't. Younger voters are the most likely to have their views shaped as much by images carried on entertainment shows, on the Internet and in non-news related publications. All of these venues have been completely been dominated for the last two weeks by McCain's vice-presidential choice, Gov. Palin.
What has likely added to what appears to be a significant surge by the McCain campaign in the polls has been the degree to which activists and media have seemingly been attacking Palin at every turn.
This past week the Obama camp had one of its worst performances in trying to stem the movement of opinion toward support for McCain. Obama's now infamous "lipstick on a pig" comment was like a quick speed bump, not a fatal mistake. Even Joe Biden asking a wheelchair bound person to "stand up" and be recognized was actually just an example of the kinds of gaffes to be expected of overscheduled and pressured political candidates.
But clearly one more telling fact has emerged: The fate of the Republican ticket and many GOP congressional and Senate candidates rests squarely on the shoulders of one lone woman from a state many Americans knew little about until the last few weeks. Her ability to stay strong in debates, avoid serious misstatements before media and also avoid some scandal -- a real one, and not one trumped up -- will likely determine the results of the 2008 election.
The McCain campaign will have to continue to reveal her in small doses, while at the same time making sure that she does not become so overexposed that she become old news and loses her star quality.
But make no mistake about it: If Sarah Palin remains as intriguing in early November as she is today, the much heralded massive youth vote for Barack Obama will likely be split apart, leaving Obama with not enough excited youthful voters to counter those in more senior age categories who have been more in the McCain column over the past few months.
This takes me back to what I wrote in the past and continue to believe today: Hillary Clinton, for all of her alleged negatives, could have delivered Barack Obama the kind of "superstar" ticket he needed in order to win the presidency. But Caroline Kennedy and the East Coast Democratic Establishment, once again, could not see past their insular worldview that New England is representative of America as a whole. From Dukakis to Kerry to Biden, the Democratic Party continues to go back to the same throwback region of America to find its top standard bearers.
Now Obama is coming to learn just how bad his judgment may well have been in allowing the likes of Caroline Kennedy, who has never held an elected office or run for anything, to manage his vice-presidential nomination selection process.
Certainly Sarah Palin could collapse as an attractive candidate, taking McCain and the GOP down with her. But as noted before, where is the focus on Biden? Will the media scrutinize the matter of his son the lobbyist as much as they have the actions of Palin's children?
If so, it might not be Palin who wilts, but Biden who seals the deal for a suddenly reinvigorated McCain.