As a lifelong fan of baseball's Boston Red Sox, I am sadly familiar with what it feels like to be a Democrat here in the United States.

Until 2004, when the Sox broke what was known simply as 'The Curse', it was not just that the team had failed to win a World Series in more than 80 years (there were, in fact, a few teams riding even longer droughts). What drove fans nuts was Boston's habit of coming tantalisingly close to winning championships before, inevitably, blowing it.

Rooting for a team that consistently comes close but always falls short is far more frustrating than cheering for one that never has any hope of making it out of the cellar.

After losing one presidential election on the basis of a few hundred votes in Florida and another because of a few thousand in Ohio, today's Democrats are feeling a lot like Red Sox fans: even when things are going well they watch with a grim fatalism, convinced that, somehow, their side is going to mess it up.

Despite spending most of the last two weeks in Washington, I suspect that even from the other side of the world it has been difficult to miss the despondent mood gripping America's Democrats. To hear the Washington echo chamber tell it over the last two weeks, the campaign all-but-lost.

Barack Obama, pundits (and not a few party activists) said, had lost his footing, perhaps his nerve. He had not figured out how to handle Sarah Palin while the Alaska governor herself was moving from strength to strength. History, it seemed, was likely to repeat itself. In a year that ought to be an easy win, the Democrats were headed for yet another gut-wrenching loss.

To all of which I say: Yeah, maybe. The real problem with the 24 hour news cycle that now defines American political discourse is neither its insane appetite for trivia nor its preference for ever-repeated conventional wisdom in place of thoughtful analysis. The real problem is that everyone is in such a rush to offer their opinion that few appear to have taken the time to do their homework.

Case in point: a front-page story in Friday's Washington Post headlined 'GOP Sees Rebound in Battle for Congress'. Cable news channels were hardly alone in leaping to the conclusion that the story meant Republicans were poised to retake control of Congress - which, if true, would be evidence of a huge shift toward John McCain in the presidential race. Even a senior foreign diplomat I had coffee with that morning, cited the Post and wondered aloud if control of Congress was set to change.


Yet the story in question included the following passage: "Both sides concede that the GOP stands almost no chance of taking back the House or Senate in November." That sentence was in paragraph four. It was on the front page, above the fold and led me to wonder how many supposedly incisive political observers had actually read anything more than the headline.

Yet it is precisely that - reading beyond the headlines - that ought to cheer Democrats. This race is close, but it remains theirs to win.

Buried deep in a New York Times/CBS News poll released last week there was much to give Obama hope and McCain pause. With the immediate period surrounding the party conventions now past, McCain's lead among white women had settled in only a few points above where it was a month ago. Obama, according to the poll, retains "a slight edge among independents".

Sixty per cent of the respondents said they were concerned by the prospect that Palin might have to take charge during a McCain presidency. Perhaps most worrisome for the GOP, 57 per cent said they view McCain as a "typical Republican" while fewer than half see Obama as a "typical Democrat".

The conventional wisdom of the moment is that momentum is shifting back towards Obama because the economy has moved to the forefront of voters' minds. A more apt reading, however, might be that Obama is the current beneficiary of America's short attention span.

Both Obama and McCain scored historically large audiences for their convention acceptance speeches. Yet a significant chunk of the country still seems torn between the two. That gives the debates, which begin this week, even more than their usual importance.

Far too many people writing campaign commentary do so from the heart rather than the head. Early September belonged to McCain. The middle of the month saw a shift toward Obama. But neither of those facts tells you much about what comes next.

November is still a long way off.

Gordon Robison is a journalist and consultant based in Burlington, Vermont. He has lived in and reported on the Middle East for two decades, including assignments in Baghdad for both CNN and Fox News.