Front Runner

This election season appears to be conspiring to make me look bad as a prognosticator. I thought that Hillary Clinton would win the Democratic nomination and instead, Barack Obama came storming onto the political scene and took it away from her. Next, I thought that Barack Obama would win the Presidential election and . . . well, I still think that but here comes John McCain, storming onto the political scene:

In a sharp turnaround, Republican John McCain has opened a 5-point lead on Democrat Barack Obama in the U.S. presidential race and is seen as a stronger manager of the economy, according to a Reuters/Zogby poll released on Wednesday.

McCain leads Obama among likely U.S. voters by 46 percent to 41 percent, wiping out Obama’s solid 7-point advantage in July and taking his first lead in the monthly Reuters/Zogby poll.

The reversal follows a month of attacks by McCain, who has questioned Obama’s experience, criticized his opposition to most new offshore oil drilling and mocked his overseas trip.

The poll was taken Thursday through Saturday as Obama wrapped up a weeklong vacation in Hawaii that ceded the political spotlight to McCain, who seized on Russia’s invasion of Georgia to emphasize his foreign policy views.

“There is no doubt the campaign to discredit Obama is paying off for McCain right now,” pollster John Zogby said. “This is a significant ebb for Obama.”

McCain now has a 9-point edge, 49 percent to 40 percent, over Obama on the critical question of who would be the best manager of the economy — an issue nearly half of voters said was their top concern in the November 4 presidential election.

That margin reversed Obama’s 4-point edge last month on the economy over McCain, an Arizona senator and former Vietnam prisoner of war who has admitted a lack of economic expertise and shows far greater interest in foreign and military policy.

To be sure, McCain has run a much sharper political campaign ever since he shook up his staff and put Steve Schmidt in charge. At the same time, it is worth asking how much of McCain’s turnaround is the result of the United States continuing to be a center-right country and gravitating towards McCain’s positions as the ideological distinctions between McCain and Obama have become more stark.

In either event, this is a remarkable turn of events. The Republican brand name has been diminished, but McCain is bringing it back and making a once-thought unbeatable Barack Obama look more beatable in the eyes of many. That sound you hear in the distance is faint, but it may well be the Clintons saying “We told you so!” And ginning up the campaign machine for 2012, while they are at it.