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Obamaians, don’t get your hopes up (too much)

It was mid-October 1992, and Bill Clinton led George HW Bush with 16 points in the polls. In the end, Clinton won the elections by 6 points. In 1999, Al Gore led George W Bush 51 to 40 points in at least one poll. In 1973, Jimmy Carter led Gerald Ford in one poll by 13 points; Carter finally won by just 2.

All this is meant to convey one message: Democrats, don’t you get your hopes up too much just yet.

This race is going to tighten to microscopic margins, and John McCain might yet win.

That’s why Barack Obama’s campaign is pushing people to vote early, and vote now, while Obama is still high up in the polls. This is especially the case in Ohio, where the Democratic state leadership has done everything it can, within the confines of the law, to allow early voting everywhere — especially in districts which in 2000 and 2004 were very close, and which narrowly went for Bush.

And Obama’s campaign just might have learned something from Tom Bradley’s campaign for governor of California, in 1982. The Bradley Effect is named after him — but for the wrong reasons. The Bradley Effect, in my book at least, had everything to do with motivation and early voting, not with racism.

Tom Bradley led his white Republican counterpart in the polls by a wide margin, but in the end lost. Many to this day wrongly say that it was racism that led white people to say to pollsters that they were going to vote for Bradley, while in the end, they voted for the white candidate.

Not so.  Closer examination of the polls leading up to the election in hindsight showed Bradley’s lead narrowing significantly. In the end, Bradley’s lead had evaporated to just 45-44.  He then lost the election because of early voting; Republican voters simply were more motivated than their complacent Democratic counterparts, and they went out to vote early in massive numbers, precisely because Bradley was out-polling their favourite candidate.

This is the Bradley Effect the McCain is now banking on. Team McCain is hoping that the strong polling numbers of Obama will motivate McCain voters to go out to vote early.

Team Obama is trying to do two things at once: dilute the Bradley Effect, and gain the upper hand in the process while he is still leading McCain in the polls.

And that’s smart thinking by people who seem to know their campaigns history. Election Night on November 4 will tell who outsmarted who. This fight could still go either way.