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BAMAPHIN 22
09-08-2008, 12:11 PM
As Barack Obama (http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/08/22/politics/main3193625.shtml) and John McCain (http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/08/22/politics/main3193619.shtml) go barreling neck-and-neck into the homestretch, advisers for both men know one thing for certain: Nothing is.

More so than any presidential race in recent history, this one may be determined by forces beyond the control of either candidate.

How far will housing values fall? How far will oil prices rise? Will violence in Iraq erase the gains of the surge? Will Israel attack Iran? Will one of the Big Three automakers go bankrupt? Which neighbor will Russia attack next? Which bank will fail? Will terrorists strike the United States again?

It’s impossible to predict much about this race, but here are seven things to watch as the unknowns become knowns:


1. Will Obama profit from pain?

Voters say the economy is their number one concern - and in nearly every poll Barack Obama enjoys a substantial, but not commanding, 10- to 15-point advantage on economic issues.


2. Has Palin Peaked?

Sarah Palin’s (http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/08/29/politics/main4397232.shtml) addition to the ticket probably exceeded her running mate’s wildest expectations: McCain has turned an eight-point deficit in the Gallup daily tracking poll into a three-point lead.

But McCain’s campaign has so far been able to protect Palin from any downside. Palin appeared before adoring crowds in the lower 48 last week, but she did so with the help of TelePrompters and under the protection of a journalist no-fly zone. On Sunday, the McCain campaign - facing increasing pressure - announced that Palin would have a sit-down with ABC’s Charlie Gibson.

3. Can Joe Biden (http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/08/23/politics/main4376926.shtml) avoid the curse of Rick Lazio?

Palin’s biggest test comes on Oct. 2 in St. Louis, when she faces Joe Biden in what is certain to be the most eagerly anticipated and probably the most-viewed veep debate ever.

Biden hopes to portray the Alaska governor as a neo-Dan Quayle, an out-of-depth amateur unfit to serve as president. But perils abound for the verbose, occasionally overbearing Biden, who must negotiate a gender minefield Rick Lazio blundered into during his disastrous debate against Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2000.

4. The presidential candidates debate, too.

Until McCain picked Palin, the trio of presidential debates -- scheduled for Sept. 26 at Ole Miss, Oct. 7 in Nashville and Oct. 15 in Long Island - seemed likely to the defining moments in the fall campaign. They still are.

“The margins are so tight and voters have so many questions about both guys. The potential for a major, game-changing slip-up is huge,” says Democratic consultant Jefrey Pollack.

Adds former Clinton pollster Geoff Garin: “The debates are the story this year… Voters need to take [the candidates’] temperature.”


5. Will Hillary really help?

Obama needs Hillary Clinton on the trail - less to offset Palin than to deliver working-class whites who became her base during the primaries.

Exactly how much she’ll be used is up in the air. Obama’s people have presented Clinton with a list of places and dates. She’s amenable - under two conditions. First, she refuses to be a “Sarah Palin attack dog,” according to a person close to her. Second, she wants Obama campaign events to coincide with fundraisers to retire her $20 million-plus debt.

And what role will Bill Clinton play?


6. Wright back at you.

Obama complains that he didn’t much in the way of economic solutions at the Republican Convention. There’s something else he didn’t hear much: the name of Reg. Jeremiah Wright.

That won’t last.

It’s possible that McCain himself will attack Obama over his longtime relationship with the firebrand former preacher, but it’s far more likely that independent groups will run ads and barrage white, working-class voters with Wright-Obama emails during the homestretch.

7. Will Mount McCain erupt?

When Democratic operatives were gaming out a race against McCain earlier this year, one thing seemed certain to work in their favor: At some point, McCain would blow a gaset and undo months of political anger management.

A lot of Democrats still think it will happen, citing high-profile McCain blow-ups like his May 2007 tussle with Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn and noting that McCain seems to get more irascible when he’s fatigued.


http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/09/08/politics/politico/main4424549.shtml