Sunday, August 3, 2008

McCain vs Obama, The Home Stretch

As the presidential race enters August, there's been a change in the dynamics. Obama had been enjoying a lead ranging from 4 - 8 percent over McCain since June. Now polls show the race at a dead heat. What happened?

Obama is basically employing the same strategy he used in the primaries. He's staying vague, focusing on emotion and implyint that any serious criticism of him is based on race. He's trying to run out the clock.

The problem is too much clock and McCain is not Hillary. Obama had enough political capital to carry him from January to June in the primaries. He was able to turn criticism of him by the Hillary campaign into embarrasing retractions and apologies from the Clinon campaign.

He does not have enough political capital to coast from August to November. He's at a tie at this point. He's no longer the new guy. It's not about making a good first impression anymore. He actually has to change minds. To do that, you have to say something new and different. Additionally, McCain's response to accusations of racism is not apologetic, it's angry. Obama and his campaign are the ones apologizing for the insinuations or "clarifying" their statements. He's having to spend more time explaining that he didn't mean what he said than on his campaign message.

McCain has his own challenges. He's managed to get people to take a more critical look at Obama, but they are also going to want answers from McCain. His recent changes in position have made many in his own party a bit nervous. On the plus side, when he does change his mind, like on offshore drilling, he clearly states that he changed his mind rather than trying to insist his position hasn't changed when it clearly has. However, what he needs to learn and express is the difference between a senator and a chief executive. The President of the United States is not a member of any Gang of 14 or Group of 10 consensus building club. An executive has to be a product champion. There are issues and principals one doesn't comprimise on. He has shown that capacity on winning in Iraq. Now he needs to demonstrate it on energy policy, taxes, reigning in government spending, particularly earmarks. The Democrat base is far more forgiving of pragmatism than is the Republican base ("read my lips..."). If they're not convinced their candidate will forcefully defend their ideals, they'll sit this one out and wait for the next election.

Neither candidate has this thing in the bag. It's going to be a daily slugfest and should be fun to watch. With more media outlets and recording devices than ever in the history of US presidential campaigns, it should be the best reality show on TV.

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