Obama in the lead

Polling performed by two of the best organizations in the business in the period after Hillary Clinton gave up her race confirm Barack Obama’s status as the frontrunner in his race with John McCain. Clinton threw in the towel on Saturday, June 7. At that time Rasmussen’s tracking poll was showing Obama with a lead of two percentage points. Since then, his lead has been in the six to eight point range.

Gallup’s tracking polls tell a similar tale. From late May until the time Clinton bowed out, they showed basically a dead heat with McCain, but not Obama, occasionally holding a slight lead. After June 7, Obama moved out to a lead of up to seven percentage points, although the last poll has the lead down to three.

Obama’s bump was not unexpected. For example, pro-McCain operatives have been telling anyone who would listen that this would occur (generally, they said it would be more significant than what we’ve seen, probably to make it appear that Obama wasn’t “meeting expectations”). But the fact that the bump was expected means, if anything, that it is more real, not less. Indeed, the lead reflected in the Rasmussen and Gallup tracking (let’s call it approximately 5 percentage points) is at the low end of what, in my view, the “fundamentals” suggest the Democratic presidential candidate’s lead should be this year.

The bottom line, then, is that as much as Obama and his campaign have seemed to stumble in recent months, he’s in the lead. I don’t mean to suggest that June polls have vast significance. The race has a long way to go, and there certainly will be twists and turns. Developments in Iraq and, especially, economic developments here at home will likely be key. There may also be key developments on other fronts that no one is thinking about now. But being ahead in June surely is better than being behind.

For what little it’s worth (and because it’s Friday), let’s guess how the race will evolve from here. I expect Obama to take something resembling his current lead into the Democratic convention. Unlike with recent Democratic conventions, look for Obama to receive a major bounce at “his” convention, and to have a double digit lead when the Republicans meet.

I don’t have much sense of how much bounce, if any, McCain will get from “his” convention, but I expect Obama to maintain a decent lead into mid-October. At that point, a significant number of voters will recoil from the prospect of electing someone this new and this liberal, and the race will tighten considerably. But if the economy looks like it does now, or worse, as election day approaches, I’m guessing that the electorate more likely than not will take the plunge.

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