OBAMA AS ADLAI STEVENSON?
The democrats were expecting Kennedy vs. Nixon but what they’re getting is beginning to look more and more like Stevenson vs. Eisenhower. Obama’s recent campaign hasn’t helped matters: Whenever a presidential nominee has to spend time dealing separately with the vice presidential; nominee, he or she is diminished. When the junior Illinois Senator announced that “today is the first day in the rest of the campaign”, many democratic operatives winced.
It must be remembered that Adlai Stevenson, whatever his genteel eloquence and other virtues, seemed almost effete next to the plain spoken retired general, the likeable “Ike”. Dwight Eisenhower was an authentic leader, someone whom President Harry Truman had hoped would be his party’s nominee instead of that politician from Illinois. Unfortunately – from President Truman’s point of view – Ike the war hero became Ike the Republican; and millions of democrats crossed party lines to vote for him.
No, Barack is not Adlai, and John is not Ike; but the thematic resemblances are actually very close, allowing for differences in era and personalities.
Of course it is too early to attempt to call this race, especially in the Electoral College, but it is not too early to recall two factors (I first raised these points in my pre convention post of September 3):
(1) Increased exposure will help the candidate with fewer unpublicized negatives (The Obama Nation, full of damaging material, has been at or near the top of the New York Times best seller list for 6 weeks) and
(2) the American people prefer a divided government whenever one party has unquestioned dominance of Senate and House (democrats are poised to expand majorities in both chambers, yet Congress’ approval ratings remain at roughly 70% disapproval and only 20% approval).
Both factors favor McCain who is favored by 63% of voters as the one more likely to work across party lines. And McCain also has accomplished two things fairly quickly – he has seized center stage from Senator Obama and has virtually preempted the “change agent” role.
Here is the core problem with the Obama nomination, as I see it. He has a complicated and fascinating resume but almost no character references. His candidacy caught the enthusiastic imagination of core supporters whose politics remain to the left of the general voter, but that enthusiasm is beginning to fade as their candidate moves to the center. It wasn’t that Obama peaked too early so much as that Obama peaked without a powerful follow-on game.
Senator McCain seems to have accomplished the opposite: He has a compelling resume with equally compelling character references. And his candidacy has increased the enthusiasm of his core supporters whose politics remains to the right of the general vote as he moves to the center.
We are now measuring the time to election in weeks not months; it is increasingly difficult for a candidate to alter the basic political landscape. McCain polls for the moment at 50% (see the Rasmussen link for Sunday –http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/election_20082/2008_presidential_election/daily_presidential_tracking_poll).
But the race is still subject to redefining events. For example, if the candidates remain within three points of each other at the time of the debates, either one could pull ahead in the last week propelled by a particularly good or bad performance. The outbreak of global hostilities, another natural or terrorist disaster, scary economic news – any or all of the above – will shake things up to the benefit of one of the other candidate. But it is very telling that political analysts on both sides secretly agree that a set of really worrying events will probably favor John McCain. A majority of Americans (and a plurality of democrats) are beginning to think that the country needs “adult supervision”.
And democrats are deeply worried because of another factor that they dare not address in public. In today’s politically correct environment, Obama’s poll numbers may be overstating his actual strength as a candidate by as much as 5%. [Visit this link: http://jaygaskill.com/ObamaMcCainFinishLine.htm for more on the “Bradley effect.]
This is the most interesting and consequential presidential race in decades. Stay informed; stay tuned; and make sure that your is counted.