Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Ten issues that could decide the McCain-Obama election

It would seem by any stretch of reason that given the various disasters the Bush administration has imposed upon this nation that the Democrats should be a shoo-in for the November election. But Democrats would be fools to assume they can sit back and take it easy. Despite the hard feelings many Republicans have against their nominee John McCain, he is most likely the strongest candidate they could have put forth from the field they had to choose from. He is both a conservative who holds some appeal to their party base but has also put the greatest distance between himself and the Bush train-wreck than any of the candidates running for the Republican nomination. It is that distance, and that distance only, that give him some hope of appealing to independents and unhappy Democrats.

Smart Democrats recognize Americans see the November contest as a “change election” and are rallying behind Senator Barack Obama. Yet a significant portion of the party look back on the 90’s as the good old days and yearn for a Clinton third term conveniently overlooking the scandals and triangulation that personified the first Clinton presidency. Senator Hillary Clinton trailing in the polls, delegate count and finances continues her campaign against Senator Obama hoping either lightning will strike and she will win the nomination this summer or, possibly, she can so damage Obama he will lose in November and the Democrats will rally behind her to run against an elderly President McCain in 2012.

Barring some unforeseen event, Senators Obama and McCain will officially become nominees this summer and face off for the White House this November. Ken Silverstein has listed ten factors that will help determine who wins:
… polls show McCain is competitive and there is every indication that the presidential race will be close, whether he is running against Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. At this point, no matter what happens in Pennsylvania on Tuesday, the likelihood is that Obama will win the Democratic nomination….

I recently asked Jordan Lieberman, publisher of Politics magazine (formerly Campaign & Elections), for a list of ten factors that will determine the outcome of an Obama-McCain race. He and I discussed his list of ten of items over the phone, and below I’ve added a small amount of commentary to his thoughts.

If Hillary turns things around, I’ll do a similar item on the basis of a McCain-Clinton match up in November.

1. Starting with the obvious–Iraq. As McCain himself recently said, before quickly backing off, if Americans believe that U.S. policy in Iraq is failing, “then I lose.”

2. The economy. A severe downturn before November, while not as fatal to McCain’s chances as would be a return to chaos in Iraq, will badly damage his candidacy, as voters will generally see it as a Bush/G.O.P. recession.

3. The youth vote. Younger voters traditionally vote at lower levels than any other group. Obama has generated a lot of enthusiasm among this sector, but will they actually come out in November?

4. Barack Hussein bin Laden, or, Does negative campaigning still work? McCain will be careful not to directly associate himself with political dirty tricks, but there’ll be plenty of “independent” G.O.P. groups working to portray Obama as an American-hating radical Muslim (and as ABC News recently showed, the media will
lend a helping hand). But there have been signs that the effectiveness of negative campaigning is waning, especially against Obama.

5. How will Obama do with white male voters? (More specifically, how will Obama do with white male voters in the roughly ten states that are actually up for grabs, like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Colorado?) So far, Obama has won significant support from these voters–but up until now, he’s winning it when the other option is Hillary Clinton. Will he win reasonable support from white men when they have as an option John McCain?

6. The Hispanic vote. It had been trending Republican up until 2005, when a new and intense bout of nativism erupted in the G.O.P. But McCain is the one Republican
who could win a decent share of the Hispanic vote, which will be important in some key Western states and Florida. Complicating matters for Obama is that, so far, Hillary Clinton has been beating him handily with these voters.

7. The vice presidential nominee. Obama will probably be looking for a running mate who will provide foreign policy gravitas and “balance” to the Democratic ticket. Things are far trickier for McCain as he has no natural choice for VP. “McCain has problems with conservatives, on the economy, with his age and on other issues,” says Lieberman. “No matter who he picks, someone is going to be mad. Give me six names and I can list problems with all of them.”

8. What happens to Hillary Clinton voters? Many will vote for Obama, of course, but how many will vote for McCain, and how many will stay home, are very much open questions. Furthermore, will Hillary’s key supporters actively back Obama or
merely vote for him without enthusiasm? Hillary’s supporters will be taking their cues from her. How Obama treats her and her candidacy between now and the convention will play an important role here.

9. Simmering Legal Dispute I. Will McCain’s campaign be allowed to opt out of the public election funds program?

10. Simmering Legal Dispute II. This one has attracted less attention, but Democratic fixer Harold Ickes has helped form Catalist, “a for-profit databank that has sold its voter files to the Obama and the Clinton presidential campaigns for their get-out-the-vote efforts.” Catalist, according to a New York Times story:

allows wealthy Democratic donors to help progressive organizations and candidates by investing in the company…But some campaign finance watchdogs say they wonder whether Catalist was established not so much to make money but to find a creative way to allow big-money liberal donors to influence the election without disclosing the degree of their involvement or being subjected to other rules that would govern spending by an explicitly political organization.
Don’t be surprised if the G.O.P. or a G.O.P.-affiliated group files a legal challenge to Catalist. A ruling against Catalist could hurt the Democratic nominee.

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