Saturday, September 27, 2008

Race for the White House- 9/27/08

38 Days Until Election Day

All things considered, it has been a good week for the Presidential aspirations of Barack Obama. In the wake of the last night's first general election debate, I think his standings in the polls will, in the short term, even increase more. But interestingly enough, the debate probably also helped John McCain stop the bleeding of the past two weeks, and while he now has some lost ground to make up, some of the seeds he planted in the debate may pay off down the road. It was an interesting debate from my perspective, perhaps one without a clear-cut winner. Partisans of both candidates think their man did well, and probably for good reason. In some ways, both candidates exceeded the expectations that had been set for them, but both should also look at the event as one of missed opportunities. McCain failed to dramatically alter the course of the race while Obama failed to score significant points against a slumping opponent. The path to debate itself over the past week is also a story onto itself.

The main reason that Obama has had such a successful two weeks in national polls and in some more state polls (which continue to have mixed results for both candidates) is the U.S. financial crisis and the debate over a federal bailout package for Wall Street. We will not get into the specifics of this matter or the legislation, but the current situation has Americans very concerned and that naturally would negatively impact the party in power. With a deal on Capitol Hill proving to be elusive, John McCain made a bold move, that a lot of conservatives originally saw as a brilliant ploy, but one that I believed, and sadly feel I have been proven right on, was a strategic mistake.

On Wednesday, McCain made the surprise announcement that he would "suspend" his Presidential campaign in order to return to Washington the next day and try to get a deal worked out. He announced plans to pull all ads from the airwaves and said he thought the Presidential debate on Friday should be postponed until a deal could be worked out, which he said could occur by Monday. While I believe McCain was entirely genuine in this action, and that it clearly fits into his "Country First" mindset, I think the move was hard to sell in a political way, and that while it might have been right for America, it set his campaign back. Obama did not take the bait, as many thought he would, in agreeing to suspend the debate, but did agree to return to Washington on Wednesday upon President Bush's request to take part in the meeting with the bipartisan Congressional leadership and both Presidential nominees. While a deal was never on the table and while McCain may have done a great service to the country by trying to get the best deal done possible, Democrats now had a motivation to play politics and try to frame the typically ugly legislative process as being tied to McCain or the fallacy that McCain had made things worse in trying to get a deal worked out. Bill Clinton though, who through his body language and parsed words continues to make it appear he is rooting for McCain in this election, took the interesting step of trying to give McCain some cover on the debate postponement suggestion.

This is why U.S. Senators have had such a hard time being elected President. People associate them with the "mess in Washington" and in the absence of a deal being worked out in time, McCain did not get the boost he could have and had to agree to go onto the debate anyway. It was an interesting risk for his campaign, but ultimately not one worth taking. Obama of course is also a Senator, but did not seem to be particularly interested in leaving the campaign trail to try to get involved, as the new leader of his party. Since Obama has not really been that active as a U.S. Senator, he had less to lose in the eyes of the voters on this matter. Perhaps the coming week will see a popular deal worked out and McCain can benefit from being the driving force behind getting that done, but in the meantime, his campaign lost at least two days with a lot of people considering it a "political stunt." Even after last night's debate, McCain has not made any public appearances or the traditional "Hey, I Won!" post-debate rallies, (while Obama is doing that), and has instead returned again to Washington to try to do his actual duty as a U.S. Senator and the new leader of the Republican Party.

In the face of these zig-zags and McCain not focusing much on the debate or preperation for it, I had a feeling of dread on Friday about this debate and how he could come across. I worried that he just might not in the right frame of mind and that his performance would suffer for it. In some ways, I think that did happen, but in most other ways, I think he exceeded my expectations and that of many others. The bad news for Republicans though, is that Obama had a pretty good night as well on what should have been the debate on "McCain's turf." I could list a dozen gaffes or instincts of McCain getting the better of Obama in the debate, but I don't think it really mattered too much to a great deal of undecided voters. While Obama was far as strong as Democrat politicians like Bill Clinton, John Kerry, or even Al Gore on occasion, have been in these debate formats, he probably managed to limit the damage enough to work to his benefit.

As I watched the debate, I have to describe my mood as being somewhat disappointed. As the debate went on, Obama got worse, and McCain got better, and was extremely impressive in the last ten minutes of it, but I had the feeling that the pundits, focus groups, and snap polls would all call it a win for Obama (in large part because more Democrats would be watching on tv... Republicans being at Friday Night football games, etc). I was somewhat pleasantly surprised when it was over to hear so many pundits say that McCain was very good and might have won the debate on points.

This debate was supposed to be exclusively about foreign policy and national security issues, but because of the events in the news, about a third of it was devoted to the economy, which was a blessing for Obama. There were basically 8 rounds in the debate. The first one was on the economy, and I sadly think Obama got the best of it. Then, the next seven, mostly on foreign policy, I think arguably all went to McCain, who was clearly better than Obama on those issues. On two occasions, But the first round will probably be seen as the most important. Interestingly enough, some people have stated that McCain actually managed to match Obama on the economy and Obama managed to match McCain on foreign policy, but that was not really what I took away from it. People might also note the stylistic differences between the two candidates, and viewers might have reacted negatively to Obama calling his opponent "John" and McCain in turn, not once even looking in Obama's direction during the debate. For his part, Obama seemed pretty peevish at moments which his body language and attempts to interrupt in a way that was a scaled down version of Al Gore in the first 2000 debate.

I do not want to write a novel here, but I do want to note one instance which I think was very illuminating. McCain spoke, as he has before, of a bracelet he wears that was given to him by the mother of a soldier killed in action. Obama then said, "I have a bracelet too", and then had to look down at it to read the name of the soldier who lost his life on the name of it. Clearly, Obama did not have the emotional investment in his bracelet that McCain has in his, not knowing the name and all, and it looked like a nothing more than a political prop by Obama. Shame on him. Also, it was funny, when Obama twice had to ask the moderator to move on to a new subject, after McCain had just hammered him, and the Democrat did not know how to respond.

So, to wrap this all up, I wish the debate would have been a little better for McCain, but considering the events leading up to it, which I consider an unforced error by McCain, it could have been a heck of a lot worse. Since Obama looked plausible, at least to the casual observer, I think he probably benefits a little more politically, but McCain might have been able to change the subject and get his footing back. The race will remain close and future debates will be important. Thursday is the much anticipated Joe Biden vs. Sarah Palin debate, in which everyone will be looking for Palin gaffes (after an interview with Katie Couric which was not considered to have been a shining moment for her), but Biden has gotten quite a few passes from the media for his increasingly bizarre statements, such as saying that FDR went on television in 1929 to address the nation.

Republicans, looking at polls, are likely feeling a bit more downbeat about this election than we were a couple weeks ago, but when we really get down to it, and consider that the popular vote is not the main thing at play here (and I actually think Obama could win 50-47 and still lose the election for reasons I may get into in future weeks), we should all realize that the Electoral College still does give Democrats less room for error than Republicans.

To be brief, there are several states that Obama has in the bank and there are several more states that McCain has in the bank. There are many states that could go either way and will ultimately decide the election. Democrats might very well pick up Iowa and New Mexico and Republicans happen to have a lead in at least one poll currently out of Michigan and New Hampshire.

Basically though, there are eight Republican states from 2004 that if Republicans win them all, it will be impossible for the Democrats to win, even if they keep all the Kerry states.

Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia. A couple of them are probably a little less worrisome to Republicans than others, but if McCain wins all eight of those states, he wins, regardless of what happens in the other battleground states.

Currently, things are very close in them all, but in the past week, at least one poll from each of those states was released showing McCain ahead.

So, cheer up Republicans and don't get too cocky Democrats, the race is far from over.


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