A few weeks ago, I kept hearing about how sluggish Obama's campaign was and how dynamic McCain's has become.
My experience was the opposite. So I thought I'd do a little research, and found something that is now being born out in the polling.
Both candidates have the same widget on their web sites, a little device that lets you enter your ZIP code or any ZIP code for that matter, the number of miles as a radius from it, and get a listing of the campaign events taking place therein.
So I tried it for McCain and 53538, the zip code where I live in Fort Atkinson, and got ... zip, nada. At 25 miles, there were six events. And at 100 miles, including Madison, Milwaukee and the whole corridor down to Chicago, the site showed 24 events, with seven being the same event.
This can't be, I thought.
I checked Milwaukee -- 53201 -- at 10 miles. There were four listed events, with three of them being the same event held on different days at the Astor Hotel by someone named Adam Bauman.
Same with Madison: "There are currently no events in the area you searched for, Click here to host a McCain Nation event," the widget said.
Can this be true? Both campaigns keep talking about their strong grassroots support and ground-level organizations. But these results suggest that McCain's Wisconsin presence is little more than a hollow shell.
Then I checked Obama's website, using his widget.
Within 10 miles of Fort Atkinson, there were six events. At 25 miles, 106. And at 100 miles, 504 events.
This astounded me. The numbers indicate that Obama's campaign has blanketed this 100-mile radius, with more than 20 times the number of events as has McCain's campaign.
This isn't just a reflection of money. You can't buy political participation at this level.
If what I see in these numbers is a reflection of the relative strengths and likelihood of success, McCain can kiss Wisconsin goodbye. (The Republican National Committee obviously agrees; it just pulled its support for McCain and Palin from Wisconsin.)
But maybe this is a fluke, the result of hyper political lefty activism instigated by Madison, Wiscommunism.
So I tried Phoenix, 85001.
Within a 100-mile radius, McCain's widget turned up 20 events, many duplicates. Obama's widget for 100 miles at 85001 shows 450+ events.
How can this be?
Arizona is McCain's stronghold, his redoubt. His wife's father is the area's only distributor of Budweiser, for cripes sake.
Supposedly, McCain lives there.
And what about a surefire McCain stronghold? Bubba country. Some retreat for real red-blooded meat eaters, the kind who still think My Lai was an upstanding military victory and Reagan won WWII.
Where could this place be?
Pensacola, Florida, of course! McCain country if ever there was such a place. Training ground for Navy flyers (although in McCain's case, he didn't learn too much, losing five planes.) Where two out of every three people are registered as Republicans.
Surely, if any place is going to frown on Obama and go ga-ga over McCain and Palin, it's Pensacola.
And yet, here's what my research shows:
The McCain events around Pensacola (32501), 25-mile radius: One event, Ed Morgan's debate watching get-together in Gulf Breeze, Oct. 15. In 100 miles, there were four events, Ed's gig again plus three events billed as, "Straight Talk on Highway 98! Join us...in front of Walgreens in Daphne, Alabama."
For the same Pensacola zip code, Obama's site showed 31 events within 25 miles and 62 within 100.
You can try this yourself.
At this stage of the game, political campaign have two major tasks: identifying supporters and making sure they get to the polls. This is done with boots on the ground. And if it isn't in place by now, it's too late.
Obama's forces are deployed, his best and most experienced leaders are in the field, his troops have completed training, their morale is high and they're rarin' to go. In fact, some are being redeployed to reinforce local cadre in "battleground states."
McCain, meanwhile, is reduced to running an advertising campaign, not a political campaign. In fact, he never had a real campaign to begin with. McCain himself indicated as much when he walked away from a much ballyhooed rally in La Crosse after no more than a 20-minute howdydo.
The fact is that Popeye and Olive Oyl would have a better chance than McCain and Palin at beating Obama and Biden.
Phil Ball, Viet Nam veteran and 1970s Madison mayoral assistant to Paul Soglin, served on Gene McCarthy's national staff in the 1968 presidential race.