Analyzing the Race
There isn’t much happening in politics. As I write this, the top story on Drudge is something about Congress’s mortgage bailout; the only big story about the presidential race is an article about a dispute between James Dobson and Barack Obama on the proper interpretation of the Bible. The top story on the Politico is a piece about the loose standards required to be billed as a “strategist” on cable TV. (Actually, it’s quite an interesting story, but not very earthshaking). The primaries are over, neither candidate wants to enter general election mode, President Bush is a lame duck, and the Democratic Congress has been inactive. This respite provides an opportunity to take a look at the static political situation.
First, it seems obvious that if the presidential election were held today, John McCain would probably be crushed. According to the RealClearPolitics national poll average, McCain trails Barack Obama by 7.5 points. The RCP electoral vote count puts Obama up 238-163 in electoral votes. Rasmussen’s Daily Tracking poll has McCain down by six. Granted, Obama is getting a bounce due to his defeat of Hillary Clinton, but his leads are simply too large to be the result of such a bump.
McCain trails for two primary reasons—first, the fact that many conservatives are withholding their support, and second, he does not seem to have hit on any dominant theme for his campaign.
When McCain got the nomination, most prominent conservative pundits were harshly critical of him, calling him a liberal and a disaster for the party. (Of course, if McCain is so bad, how come the voters couldn’t see that fact and give Mitt Romney the nomination?) I expected that—but then I expected those commentators to realize that McCain was the best there was left, and give him their (grudging) support, which didn’t happen.
McCain didn’t help by inexplicably turning liberal talking points into important campaign themes. He spent a week talking about climate change, which couldn’t have helped him at all. Obviously to everyone except McCain, anyone who thinks global warming is a serious issue will vote for the more environmentalist friendly Obama, while already suspicious conservatives will only have their suspicions confirmed.
Conservatives don’t like McCain, and he doesn’t seem very interested in pursuing them. In fact, it’s not quite certain which groups McCain is trying to attract. Oddly, the neocons who supported the Giuliani campaign don’t seem to like McCain, fiscal conservatives are understandably leery of his support for cap-and-trade policies (and McCain rarely mentions his tax program), and McCain rarely mentions social issues (even though his record on abortion is excellent).
It seems that McCain is attempting to build a voter base out of voters who a) want victory in Iraq, b) hate earmarks, and c) want to see bipartisanship. Unfortunately for McCain, Americans are a) tired of the Iraq war, b) like earmarks (they may dislike them in theory, but change their mind when money comes home to their district) and c) don’t really care about bipartisanship.
Happily for McCain, Barack Obama is displaying some significant weaknesses as well. It is apparent that he doesn’t speak well off the cuff, and that his style is more suited for lofty speeches and high-sounding rhetoric. This is a weakness McCain should exploit during debates.
Also, Obama seems to be exceptionally poor at handling scandals. When the Jeremiah Wright story broke, his explanations were comically confusing—he was only saved by a sympathetic media that hailed his subsequent speech on race as the next coming of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. (Quick, recite one memorable line from that speech). Obama has never really addressed his friendship with former terrorist William Ayers, or his relationship with the corrupt Tony Rezko, or the fact that he asked for over $740 million in earmarks.
Obama has one final weakness—the Bradley effect. It is undeniable that voters—for whatever reason—are much more willing to tell a pollster that they will vote for a black candidate than to actually do so.
If the election were held today, McCain would probably lose. However, if McCain could find either substantial conservative support or a consistent message, it would be quite possible for him to exploit Obama’s weaknesses and pull off an upset. His path will not easy, but a McCain victory is quite possible.