Obama in a landslide?

In a weekend piece from the U.K.'s Telegraph comes a story that should be news to voters in the key states of Florida, Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Colorado: Barack Obama thinks he's going to win the 2008 election in a "landslide".  "Barack Obama's senior aides believe he is on course for a landslide election victory over John McCain and will comfortably exceed most current predictions in the race for the White House. 

Their optimism, which is said to be shared by the Democratic candidate himself, is based on information from private polling and on faith in the powerful political organisation he has built in the key swing states.

Insiders say that Mr Obama's apparent calm through an unusually turbulent election season is because he believes that his strength among first time voters in several key states has been underestimated, both by the media and by the Republican Party. "

Obama and his campaign are further convinced that he can win no fewer than nine of the states carried by George Bush in 2004 -- putting him on track to win as many as 340 electoral votes. 270 are needed to become president.

This confidence comes from an assumption that I find dubious: that current polls are underestimating the level of new voter registration that the Democrat's have achieved in their get out the vote drives:

"Public polling companies and the media have underestimated the scale of new Democratic voters registration in these states," the campaign official told a friend. "We're much stronger on the ground in Virginia and North Carolina than people realise. If we get out the vote this may not be close at all."

"Their confidence that good organisation will more than compensate for latent racism will be reassuring to some Democrats, who were concerned by a poll last weekend that found Mr Obama would be six points higher in the polls if he were white. "

In my mind the Obama camp is suffering from having drunk too much of its own punch: voter registration drives are notoriously bad predictors of election outcomes. And this is particularly true if the registration drive is focused on young voters -- which Obama's certainly has been. Young voters are famous for saying they will vote and then not showing up on election day.

As far as the "latent racism" issue goes -- I also think it is overstated. In fact, I think that a reverse sort of racism -- of the politically correct variety -- may be upwardly skewing Obama's polling numbers. I have a sense that many voters tell pollsters that they will support Obama because they don't want to come off as racist or "uncool". It is a natural part of our psychology to be attracted to a black candidate as part of a greater social good, and it is part of a politically correct pressure for people to be seen as socially progressive.

But I don't believe this necessarily translates to the voting booth -- when in private, people cast a vote for president. My guess is that race will have less to do with that decision, and that policies and experience will be the determining factor. And on that score, I don't think that Obama has an advantage over John McCain. I believe that the polling doesn't accurately reflect the hesitation many people have about putting an unknown Obama into power, and that a greater percentage of those polled will choose McCain as a safer alternative.

This may not be enough to win McCain the election -- but it should provide some pause to the Obama campaign in thinking that they will win this in a landslide. I predict as close a race as Gore-Bush in 2000 -- unless something dramatic happens on either side to radically upset the balance.

It isn't surprising, however, that Obama is so confident. Afterall, he is the one we've been waiting for. Right?