The Election Will Polarize Around Obama

I have long ago stopped worrying about the massive activity gap that surrounds the two candidates for President. Obama is getting a lot more attention that McCain, but as we saw, with Wright, Ayers, and "bitter/cling," it's not invariably good attention.

It's probably not a wise use of the McCain campaign's time to try and dominate the news cycle and the public consciousness in the same way Obama does, but rather to ensure that in an election that can easily be summed up as Obama vs. Not Obama, Not Obama wins the narrative.

Politico captures this dynamic pretty well today, with John McCain's invisibility stacked up against Barack Obama's cultural ubiquity:

"There has never been a major party candidate less relevant in an election than John McCain," said Democratic strategist James Carville. "It's all about Obama."

And:

Longtime Democratic consultant Doug Schoen said that for many voters questions about Obama’s identity, faith and patriotism are metaphors for a broader doubt and uncertainty about somebody who, until four years ago, was an unknown even in much of the political community.

“It's Obama against Obama—and Obama’s narrowly winning,’ Schoen said. “He’s only five points ahead running against a shadow when he should be up 15.”

“If he's acceptable, he's president. It’s that simple.”

This means a few things. First off, the RNC should be making the Democratic Primary their targeting map for the fall. John McCain's relative strengths and weaknesses with various segments of the electorate will matter little. They will be subsumed by attitudes towards Obama. Ironically, McCain's pattern of relative support across the country may be just as if not more conservative than George W. Bush's, despite his long-standing issues with the conservative base. Everything will be purely a reaction to Obama. McCain will get what cultural conservatives are left in the Democratic Party, and Obama will get more of the transplanted exurbanites who handed Bush victories in places like Loudoun County, Virginia.

The 2008 election will polarize around Obama in the same way that 2004 polarized around Bush. That's because Obama is a cultural icon. But so are Tom Cruise and Britney Spears. The danger to this celebrity strategy is that it's rendering Obama's trump card -- partisan contrast and "Bush's third term" -- irrelevant. Once someone is knocked off a pedastal as high as Obama's is, the fall is so hard that it doesn't matter that "the other guy is worse."

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Comments

What you are saying then is

That Obama is in control of the election, and McCain can't win, Obama can only lose.

Do I have that right?  McCain should just go home and wait for November and see whether Obama blows it?

McCain Should Alter His Strategy

I agree with your assesment, that the vote is going to be either for or against Obama.  McCain seems to think his biography and past bipartisan compromises are going to win him the White House. 

McCain needs to go more negative on Obama than he has been.  Obama is quite vulnerable to negative attacks, much more so than McCain.  About the only thing Obama can do if he "goes negative" would be to paint McCain as closet "right-wing" conservative.  All that will do is help his situation with the reluctant Republican base who have doubts about his conservative credentials.   Most voters know McCain is a moderate Republican, so I don't see Obama getting much traction with independent voters using those kind of attacks.  McCain, however, attacking Obama as a "left-wing" radical liberal, will get significant traction. 

If McCain continues with his strategy of being an elder statesman, being above the fray, and hoping someone else (like the mainstream-media) are going to land body blows on Obama, he's going to lose.

The McCain campaign has to take out Obama, and McCain is going to have to get his hands dirty.  He doesn't have to get personal, but he needs to convince Americans that it would be dangerous to put Obama in charge.

1992 is an interesting parallel

Bush 41 closed within a point of Clinton a week out, only to fall back to a significant deficit

http://www.kaisernetwork.org/reports/1992/11/a921102.7.html

Why?

a) Bush made some verbal gaffes the final week that made him sound less than presidential i.e. calling Gore "Ozone Man"

b) a special prosecutor indicted Caspar Weinberger the Thursaday before the election reopening the embarassing Iran-Contra scandal.  

c) The hard Perot vote was drawn heavily out of Bush's hide, while the soft Perot vote went to Clinton

d) Because of the three-way nature of the race Bush had to put out political fires all over the country, so he wasn;t in a position to take states for granted and lock in on a handful of target states.

This is instructive in that Team McCain does not want to be in the same position to have the surge fall short on the cusp of victory.

 

'92

Fires all over the country indeed. I saw Bush at Sikorsky Airport in Bridgeport two days before the election. But then CT was within 3 points of the national median.

So let me get this straight....

So its Obama Vs. Not Obama. If its that simple, it seems that you've just proved that McCain is completely irreleveant in this election.