Is a McCain Comeback Even Possible? Let's Check the History Books

| Mon Oct. 13, 2008 12:01 PM EDT

A question I was mulling over the weekend while watching a sweet, sweet Patriots defeat: Has any candidate in recent times been able to come back from seven to 10 points down with three weeks left in a presidential election? John Harwood, writing in the New York Times, suggests the precedent doesn't look good McCain.

Since Gallup began presidential polling in 1936, only one candidate has overcome a deficit that large, and this late, to win the White House: Ronald Reagan, who trailed President Jimmy Carter 47 percent to 39 percent in a survey completed on Oct. 26, 1980.
Yet Mr. Carter, like Mr. McCain today, represented the party holding the White House in bad times. After Mr. Reagan successfully presented himself as an alternative to Mr. Carter in their lone debate, held on the late date of Oct. 28, he surged ahead...
In 1968, Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey all but erased a 12-point early-October deficit before losing narrowly to Richard M. Nixon. In 2000, Vice President Al Gore wiped out a seven-point deficit in the final 10 days of the election, winning the popular vote but losing the Electoral College to Mr. Bush.

Harwood cites a figure from Princeton political scientist Larry Bartels: since 1948, the candidate leading in October has won three-fourths of the time. Bartels puts Obama's chance of winning the popular vote at "a little over 90 percent."

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