By Joe Campbell
August 20th, 2008
Drudge has the scare headline up today. And pundits across the world are speculating about why Obama hasn’t blown McCain away yet. Yet I’m still confident in Obama’s campaign.
One of my first blog posts – and my first blog post to gain a sizeable readership – ran last October 12 when Obama was trailing Hillary by sizable margins and was entitled: “Why I Am Confident About Obama.”
My conclusion – despite the media’s almost universal consensus that no one could take down the Clinton juggernaut at that late date (with a 20 point lead nationwide and a slim lead for Clinton in Iowa) – was:
Clintonian hubris, an Obama strategy to put the pressure on Clinton late, with Iowa in a statistical dead heat, and a ton of other primaries following hard-upon Iowa. It seems to me that Obama has a good chance of winning even if he doesn’t hit his stride.
The overall perception driving me to this conclusion was that Obama was the natural candidate for this time – that his candidacy and person fit the moment in a way no other candidate’s did. George F. Will, among a few other astute observers of American politics, saw this too. Obama was the candidate that fit the times – and he had a smart and hard-nosed plan for getting the nomination from Hillary and the presidency from any Republican. The intellectual ferment, the grassroots enthusiasm, and the international support for Obama all confirm that he is the candidate of the zeitgeist.
These fundamentals have not changed.
Which is why, now, with McCain ahead of Obama by five points nationally (the first lead he has had against the presumptive Democratic nominee) and with McCain outspending Obama in many key states, and with many media supporters of Obama beginning to panic and conservatives beginning to gloat, and McCain finally finding his voice given the prospect of a war with Russia – I am still confident about the Obama campaign.
- I trust the Obama campaign’s game plan. They have run one of the best campaigns in recent memory – they are confident and they have a plan. They beat the feared Clinton machine. And they knew it after Super Tuesday – months before anyone else. They strategized perfectly and executed their plans almost flawlessly. No other campaign this election cycle can say that.
- Obama will get more bounce from the Democratic National Convention next week than McCain will get from the Republican National Convention the week after. Why? Because Obama does not have George W. Bush and Dick Cheney speaking at his convention.
- Contrary to the “conventional wisdom” of the right-wing opinionsphere, Obama has more to gain from debates with McCain than McCain. Obama’s presence and answers will stand in stark contrast to the terrifying image of “Barack Hussein Obama.” Just as Ronald Reagan did not take a clear lead over incumbent Jimmy Carter until just after their sole debate (in the last week of the campaign) – so Obama will capitalize on his debates. Reagan was running as a change agent light on specifics, high on rhetoric and hope, against a reformer who defended a good deal of the status quo whose party had been blamed for significant foreign policy and economic disasters at a time when most people felt their country was going in the wrong direction. Many people didn’t feel comfortable with Reagan until they saw him stand side-by-side with Carter and felt he seemed reasoanble. The same dynamic seems to be working now.
- Obama’s supporters discovered in July and August that he’s not a perfect candidate. He supported the FISA compromise; he explained again that he was in favor of individual gun rights; he reiterated his longstanding support for faith-based programs; he went back on his (slightly hedged) promise to participate in the federal financing program for the general election campaign. They’ve been getting antsy. But with the serious prospect of a McCain presidency, most of those who care about liberal values will discover how much better Obama is than the alterative.
- McCain doesn’t do frontrunner well.
- Polls are only as good as their turnout models. Obama’s supporters come from those demographics least likely to have a landline – and thus, many of his supporters are not taken into account in polls. Plus, if black Americans and young Americans turn out at higher than predicted levels – given that both groups are extremely energized by the Obama campaign – this could tip the election further.
- If McCain is understood to be the frontrunner, his gaffes suddenly take on a new importance – and the media will be much tougher in covering him. Thus far, they’ve treated him with kid gloves – and mainly ignored his negatives (because they’ve been ignoring him altogether.) Where is the Iraq-Pakistan border again, Mr. McCain?
- Although McCain is outspending Obama now in some key states, Obama will have far more money down the stretch – and already has a more significant campaign organization in each state than Kerry or Gore did. Right now, he is spending most of his money on creating boots on the ground and campaign infrastructure which he can call on in November to turn out the vote. Once McCain’s spending is restricted, Obama can saturate any market he wants with ads.
- Obama’s supporters are more enthusiastic. McCain’s are too old to be enthusiastic, and most don’t like him all that much anyway.
- Much of the public still sees McCain as a maverick rather than as someone who “totally supports” Bush on “the transcendent issues” like Iraq. Most of the public does not know that McCain has flip-flopped on torture and on economic policy – and that four more years of McCain promise to be no better than four more years of Bush with regards to the economy.
- Finally – and the biggest reason – neither Obama nor his surrogates have started to attack McCain yet. They have local issue ads up in many states already. But the Vice Presidential nominee’s number one job will be to take the fight to McCain. McCain is wide open to attacks on so many fronts –
- Do you support Bush more today than you did four years ago?
- Do you want a president who promises more wars, wars which, if they are as important as McCain claims, will necessitate a draft?
- Do you want America to spend lives and treasure defending a neo-empire in the Middle East?
- Do you believe America is only in a mental recession?1
- Do you want change or more of the same?
I trust the Obama campaign has a plan and that they will execute it well. That plan will include hitting McCain hard when he has less money to spare. There’s no guarantee, but Obama’s chances are still very good – and he has been consistently doing better in the polls than Gore or Kerry at similar times in the race. Obama has said that he is in this to win.
I hope so – and I know I will do all I can to ensure that he does.
- A bit of an unfair question as McCain eventually repudiated the remark, but Gramm did more than anyone to shape the policies McCain still supports. [↩]