Posts Tagged ‘Obama’

Why Obama will win

October 25, 2008

Yesterday’s post on the US presidential election is a little previous, according to some. It ends “I’m inclined to think that, as James Carville puts it, “You can call the dogs in, wet the fire, and lock up the house. The hunt is over.””  Here are the reasons why we can anticipate — short of a huge ‘October surprise’ — a big Obama victory.

There’s the state of play. Obama has been ahead in the RCP weighted average of polls since 18 September — by at least 5 points since 1 October. Pollsters like Rasmussen have been commenting on the remarkable stability in the polling for weeks: “Today’s results mark the 29th straight day that Obama’s support has stayed between 50% or above 52%.”

It’s even better for Obama when you look at the battleground states. Not only is he ahead in every state that Kerry won, but Bush 2004 states Iowa and New Mexico are strongly Obama, with Colorado, Ohio and Virginia not far behind. He’s a little ahead in Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, Missouri and Indiana according to RCP, but these are much closer. Incredibly, GOP strongholds Montana and North Dakota are now competitive.

McCain is playing defence. He and his running mate are making appearances in places like Georgia and West Virginia, which is not the road to victory. He has pretty much pulled out of the Kerry states, with the major exception of Pennsylvania (which doesn’t have early voting). Arguably, he must take Pennsylvania to win, given how things stand. But here are the latest polls (courtesy

Obama dominates in the field, comprehensively out-spending and out-organising McCain. He raised $150 million last month alone. He’s purchasing half-hour blocks of prime-time national TV, while McCain is having to scale back his advertising spend in critical states. Even in the traditionally Republican states like North Carolina, Obama’s ground staff and volunteers out-number McCain’s by a factor of four or more.

Worse for McCain, voting is underway in swing states North Carolina, Georgia, Ohio, Nevada, Colorado and Florida (in the latter two the early voting is expected to account for up to 60% and 50% respectively). Disproportionate numbers of those fronting up to the long queues are registered Democrats (absentee votes are another matter), evidence that the biggest and most sophisticated ‘get out the vote’ organisation in US history is working as it should.

Looking at the big picture, winning this year was always going to be an uphill battle for any Republican. A phenomenally unpopular incumbent fighting an unpopular war was enough of a handicap, and then, only weeks out from the election, comes the worst financial crisis since the 1930s. Partisan identification greatly favours the Democrats this year.

Still, the Republicans got off to a good start by chosing their best candidate for the conditions — someone with a track record of bucking the party, a maverick. With the right campaign strategy, McCain might have had a chance. But it’s hard to discern any strategy on McCain’s part, aside from playing things news cycle by news cycle and trying to destabilise Obama. They didn’t establish McCain as a serious player on the economy when they should have, and they didn’t undermine confidence in Obama when they might have.

There have been huge blunders by McCain. “Suspending” the campaign (or pretending to) to meddle to no effect in the crisis talks in Washington was a silly gamble. Picking a no-nothing, egregiously unprepared right-wing nutbar as his running mate was idiotic. Palin energised the Republican base, galvanised the Democrats and alienated many lingering independents still susceptible to the (phony) maverick narrative (and a number of thoughtful Republicans, not least of which was Colin Powell).

In terms of the underlying dynamics, Obama looks better by the day. He is slightly ahead with favourable ratings, and way ahead (behind) with unfavourables, giving him a net 23% compared to McCain’s 9%, according to RCP. He’s also ahead on everything excpet security, better liked, and seen to favour the rich a whole lot less than McCain.

McCain’s campaign has also been losing at the symbolic level. Heroes don’t whine about how their opponents won’t play ball (joint appearances at ‘town hall’ meetings). They don’t get angry and petty and condescending just because their opponent is taken more seriously than they think right and proper. And straight-talking patriots don’t run campaigns that are divisive, rascist, dishonest and unrelentingly negative. Particularly in times of crisis. McCain has undermined his own narrative without any help from anyone else.

Which has allowed Obama, in sharp contrast, to look presidential, authoritative, focussed and collected. Mr Cool. Squared. Not only is Obama a once-in-a-generation communicator and thoroughly brainy, he seems to have the instincts and confidence necessary to make the tough decisions that lie just ahead. A person for his times.

Update: Friday night US-time, and RCP’s poll average has Obama at his highest level of support (50.4%) and the gap very close to its widest (at 7.9%).


I’d have to agree with Krauthammer on this

October 4, 2008

Obama could still lose, despite the formidable lead he’s building up in electoral votes. His lead in many of states is not huge. And a month’s a long time in politics…


Obama wins debate

September 27, 2008

Well, yeah, I would say that. Both campaigns are claiming victory too. So why do I say Obama won?

It’s not as simple as who was on the offensive most, as some (generally Republican) commentators think. McCain was on the offensive more, and Obama missed some opportunities to push substantive points. Often, however, the lasting effect comes from the almost subliminal — subliminable if you’re the President — messages picked up by the watchers from the body language and general demeanour of the debaters.

There is evidence that voters perceived Obama as winning. In a CNN poll of more than 500 US voters (4.5% margin of error), a large majority (51% to 38%) of Americans say Obama was the victor (“Who did the best job in the debate?”). He was also considered better able to handle the economy (58% to 37%) and Iraq (52% to 47%).

Further, a CBS poll of undecided voters who watched the debate found 40% thought Obama won, 22% thought McCain and 38% thought it a tie. Of those  uncommitted voters polled, 46% said their opinion of Obama got better tonight, and 32% said their opinion of McCain got better. Like the CNN poll, 68% voters thought Obama would make the right decision about the economy, to 41% for McCain. But 48% thought Obama would make the right decisions about Iraq to 56% for McCain.

If this judgement holds up in the other polls (and given the margins I can’t see why it shouldn’t) then this is a major victory for Obama. Those who thought it a fairly even contest may be influenced by the poll findings and the overall judgement come out in Obama’s favour.

At another level it’s a clear victory for Obama. He is ahead in the polls and arguably only needed to put up a good showing and avoid gaffes. But his major hurdle in this election is the lingering doubts some democrats and independents have about his readiness. He looked presidential. Very presidential. Best of all, he held his own with an experienced adversary who was playing on his own turf — foreign affairs.

Readiness was the main line of Republican attack, and it failed. Miserably. McCain even managed to anagonise the unaligned “independent” voters in one focus group by being so patronising.

Remember, debates have only a very small immediate effect, unless there is a major “sound-bite” blunder. Neither candidate blundered. but McCain needed to win, gave it all he had, and Obama walked away looking presidential. Something he needs to do.



After the glitz, US voters still don’t get the full story

September 11, 2008

I’m off to Waiheke for a couple of days. Back Saturday morning. By then Winston Peters will most likely have been sacked, or resigned, but it won’t affect anything much in and of itself. So I’m looking forward to resting and enjoying some of the delights that Waiheke has to offer. (That doesn’t include Business Roundtable indoctrination conferences.)

In the meantime, ex-pat political consultant Neil Stockley shares his thoughts on the US presidential election in a guest post.

So, the Republicans and Democrats have finished their conventions. Which of the candidates, John McCain or Barack Obama, is telling the strongest story?

The answer is, neither.  That may explain why they are, in effect, tied in the latest opinion polls.

Since he first ran for the Republican nomination in 2000–-and got wasted by the Bush-Rove attack machine–-McCain’s narrative has been about a straight-talking, maverick Republican who took on his own party, over taxes, campaign finance reform, climate change, environmental regulation, stem cell research and immigration. The message is that he could rise above party and clean up Washington.

By the beginning of this year, however, McCain had moved back to the right, for instance on oil drilling, to immigration to tax cuts for the wealthy. Hardly surprising, that’s where the votes were in the Republican primaries. Over the summer, the new, conservative McCain took on some of Bush’s team and got nasty, trying to paint Obama as an out-of-touch, elitist, snob –- not “one of us”. This sort of toxic politics oozed through the Republican convention. McCain’s gang continued to play on what they see as voters’ resentment at liberal political elites who seem to look down on them. Paul Krugman has brilliantly dissected the sheer cynicism of this Nixonian ploy.

Then, in his (mediocre) convention speech on Thursday night, Americans mainly saw the old John McCain, speaking with quiet civility about fighting corruption, acknowledging that the Republicans “had lost the trust” of the American people and deploring “the constant partisan rancour that stops us from solving” problems. Senator McCain promised to reach out to “any willing patriot [and] make this government start working for you again” to use “the best ideas from both sides” and “ask Democrats and independents to serve with me.”

As E.J. Dionne jr. points out, the Republican nominee no longer embodies this narrative:

. . . because McCain has capitulated to the very Washington he condemned [on Thursday] and is employing the very tactics that were used ruthlessly and unfairly against him when he first ran for president eight years ago.

McCain is trying to run with these two different narratives by, in the words of the New York Times, “talking loftily of bipartisanship [while] allowing his team to savage his opponent.” The latter will be Sarah Palin’s one of main jobs, with her deliberate distortions of Barack Obama’s policies, eloquence and record. (McCain also questioned his opponents’ patriotism and Obama’s position on energy.) The logic is a bit strained but this gambit worked – just – for George W. Bush. How’s that for cynicism?

There’s more: McCain and co. will also try to bridge these two narratives by using an even bolder one: “reform”, which became the watchword of the Republican convention, appearing no fewer than 11 times in McCain’s own speech. They are trying to steal Obama’s “change” narrative.

Where the story runs aground though is that it’s not exactly clear what McCain’s “reform” means. Jonathan Weisman of the Washington Post says:

“In McCain’s attempt to fire up the Republican base without losing his “maverick” image, calls for reform have come to mean a pledge to “change” Washington — with little explanation of what that change would be or how that change would take effect. “

Is “reform” in Washington about programmes, systems, or governing style?  We haven’t been told.  And:

“It does not appear to have much to do with campaign finance reform, immigration reform, reforming the selection and confirmation of judges — all issues that McCain had something to do with and have helped define his career in the Senate.”

The reason is obvious: these issues would drive wedges between McCain and the conservative voters, lobbies and dollars that he needs. And what would he do for people struggling with rising bills and worried about losing their jobs?

That leaves McCain’s story only half built. Successful narratives aren’t just about personal stories and records, which McCain’s speech emphasised. They are also about issues and policies, framed these days as “solutions”. The two need to work together, with the candidate’s (or party’s) persona making the policy narrative more authentic.

Obama should have the edge. His promise of change is more credible. He can embody that narrative. [click here] He is new to Washington, unlike McCain, and the Democrats have been out of the White House for nearly eight years. But his economic narrative has still not struck a chord with voters.

The conservative pundit Michael Barone believes that both candidates have a problem:

“The Obama convention contended that the Democratic nominees understood people’s woes from personal experience and that their programs would provide economic security. But the substance of those programs — refundable tax credits (i.e., payments to those who pay no income tax) and a national health insurance option — are unfamiliar to voters, and their details can be hard to explain.

“The McCain convention’s thesis is that higher taxes on high earners in a time of slow growth will squelch the economy (this was Herbert Hoover’s policy, after all).

These assertions, too, are unfamiliar to voters. And, up to this point in the campaign, neither party has set out its programs clearly (or characterized the other side’s fairly).”

On energy, the other big issue of the campaign so far, this is playing out in the much the same way.

Neither Obama nor McCain will prevail until they have got their narratives together, the policy and the personal.

It’s the little differences

September 6, 2008

Fran O’Sullivan’s piece in this morning’s Herald begins:

What’s the difference between Sarah Palin and Barack Obama?

One is a well-turned-out babe, a spunk and, let’s be frank, a pretty sexy piece of eye candy.

The other kills her own food.

(Note that this is not an original joke, but is a favourite on the neocon blogs that Fran loves so much.)

We could have a lot of fun doing this ourselves…

One of them will talk to the press, the other won’t.

And so on.

Anyway, Fran’s neocon frothing — I guess dubya would call her the “angry right” — continues:

“After all the sanctimonious, highly chauvinistic and patronising columns slating the qualifications of the Alaskan Governor to be the Republican’s vice-presidential nominee candidate…”

Yeah sure Fran, a few years running a three stop-light town and two years running a state with half the population of Auckland. Oh, and the PTA, mustn’t forget that. Gee, it’s hard not to be patronising.

Speaking of Palin’s “qualifications” to be commander-in-chief of the world’s most powerful country, and to stare down Vladimir Putin — which is what we’re actually talking about Fran, nota bene — there is now a transcript available of Palin’s vetting by McCain.

Also, for a more balanced right-wing perspective in today’s Herald, try John Roughan.

Update: Russell Brown dissects Fran’s column in more depth. Quit while you’re ahead, Fran.

Obama’s convention bounce

September 4, 2008

It took a few days, but the lift in the polls for Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama is now a “fairly typical convention bounce” as Rasmussen puts it.

The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Tuesday gave Obama a six point lead with “leaners” included. Today (Wednesday US time)  Obama attracts 48% against 43% for McCain and when “leaners” are included, it’s 50% against 45%.

The story across the polls is very similar, with the RCP polling average showing Obama ahead by 5.8%, 48.8% to 43%. Gallup has Obama on 50% for the first time, eight points ahead of McCain.

Possibly more important for the final outcome, Rasmussen reports that  Obama’s favorable ratings increased from 55% before the convention to 59% at the peak of the bounce. And, “the number of Americans who say that the Democrat is too inexperienced for the job has typically been in the low-to-mid forties. However, following the convention, that number fell to the lowest level yet recorded—38%.” (The change in favourable ratings hasn’t been reflected in the RCP figures yet.)

So, Obama’s back to his biggest lead of the year, which he reached following his Berlin speech and rock-star world tour. He’s yet to hammer home the deal, but things are looking better on that front. There’s been a clear movement of hitherto undecideds towards Obama.All the more reason to expect a vitriolic attack on Obama in McCain’s acceptance speech.

Rove denounces “political” choice of running mate

August 31, 2008

“I think he’s going to make an intensely political choice, not a governing choice,” Rove said. “He’s going to view this through the prism of a candidate, not through the prism of president; that is to say, he’s going to pick somebody that he thinks will on the margin help him in a state like Indiana or Missouri or Virginia. He’s not going to be thinking big and broad about the responsibilities of president.”

Rove’s right about that, and right to condemn the choice of a running mate based on political calculations, not the person’s readiness for the job. But wait, it gets better …


It’s Biden for Obama VP

August 23, 2008

Barack Obama has selected Senator Joe Biden as his running mate.

As Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he has street cred and years of experience in foreign policy. That should help counter Republican attacks on Obama’s lack of experience in that area.

It also signals, in my view, a fair degree of confidence on the part of Obama’s campaign that they didn’t need to come up with a really exciting choice that would shake up the election campaign.

A fairly safe choice, even if he doesn’t always choose his words too carefully. And some say he’s “no true friend of working men and women.”

CNN scooped the story. Seems the Secret Service people showed up at Biden’s house before the announcement.

Oh, and one interesting things is that, should McCain announce former Governor Mitt Romney as his running mate, it’s going to blow all the elitist meme right out the window. Biden is one of the least wealthy Senators. Romney is worth more than $US200m by most estimates.

Update: Adam at Inquiring Mind points me to Marc Ambinder’s blog post about how Biden is not a comfort zone pick for Obama. As Adam points out, Ambinder’s analysis is similar to my own.

McCain — homes sweet homes

August 23, 2008

If you thought it off that a “silver-spoon fed Navy brat” married to a $100m+ heiress who wears $520 black leather Ferragamo shoes should call a scholarship kid from a poor broken home “elitist”, then here’s some good news.

Last Wednesday McCain was asked in an interview with Politico how many houses he and his wife own. He couldn’t remember:

“I think — I’ll have my staff get to you. It’s condominiums where — I’ll have them get to you.”

Now that’s what I call serious money, top drawer, solid gold elitist! McCain’s campaign is desperately trying to spin this by saying that the McCain’s have “really only four” houses, while Obama’s single house is a “frickin’ mansion.”

However, Progressive Accountability counts 10 homes, ranches, condos, and lofts, worth an estimated $13,823,269 all up.

“John and Cindy McCain own a plethora of houses spread throughout the United States, including: two beachfront condos in Coronado, California, condo in La Jolla, California, a two-unit condominium complex in Phoenix, Arizona, three ranch houses located outside of Sedona, Arizona, a high-rise condo in Arlington, Virginia, a rental loft, and, according to GQ, a loft they bought for their daughter, Meghan.”

Not bad for an anti-elitist.

Let’s compare McCain’s net worth with that of his “elitist” opponent. The non-partisan Sunlight Foundation did an analysis of their net worth in 2006 based on their personal financial disclosure.

No prizes for guessing which candidate is worth about $36 million and which one is worth $799,000. Yep, that old anti-elitist McCain’s net worth is over 45 times greater than Obama’s. Or, Obama’s is 2.2% that of McCain’s.

When it comes to elitism, there’s really no competition. (See also this earlier post.)

MacDoctor thinks that this post illustrates the trivial nature of American politics. In a way it does. It is both sad and bizzare that the most important election in the world should be decided on the basis of patently ridiculous smears as McCain’s. The problem is that they appear to work.

Stockley on McNasty’s counter-narratives

August 7, 2008

Ex-pat political consultant Neil Stockley provides an excellent analysis of McCain’s nasty counter-narratives, and what they tell us about the American body politic.

Barack Obama: not “one of us”

During the primary season, Barack Obama gave us an object lesson in how political narratives work, engaging both the heart and the head. Now, after a slow start, the McCain campaign shows us how counter-stories really work; in the process, they might be proving something thoroughly unpleasant about American politics.