August 10, 2008


Why isn't Obama crushing McCain?: A conversation with two prominent journalists and a Bush-Cheney campaign official about why, in what should be a Democratic year, Obama can't put McCain away. (Thomas Schaller, Aug. 11, 2008, Salon)

Salon asked two respected journalists and a veteran Republican operative to give us their best guesses. Tom Edsall, a former Washington Post reporter, is political editor of the Huffington Post. He was also a professor of journalism at Columbia University for 25 years. Mark Murray is the deputy political director for NBC News and was previously a reporter for the National Journal. He co-writes MSNBC's First Read, a roundup of national political news. Ben Ginsberg, a lawyer in the Washington firm Patton Boggs, served as counsel to the Bush-Cheney presidential campaign in both 2000 and 2004 and played a central role in the 2000 Florida recount. [...]

Mark Murray: I do agree that Barack Obama has some problems, particularly with white voters. There is an interesting new Democracy Corps Poll, a poll that's put out by Stan Greenberg and James Carville, and it actually showed that Barack Obama versus John Kerry in 2004 is running poorer than Kerry did among many whites, particularly among older whites. So that is a problem for Obama. On the other hand, some of that is offset by Obama doing much better than Kerry did among African-Americans, independents and younger voters, and so some of his weaknesses are offset by some of his strengths. But no doubt, for him to really capitalize in this environment, he's going to need to shore up some of his weaknesses.

However, to be a little counterintuitive, I would actually say that a lot of this also has to do with John McCain. I was looking back at a March NBC-Wall Street Journal poll that had both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton running about 2 or 3 points ahead of John McCain, even though the generic ballot had Democrats winning by 15 points. Against Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, John McCain was doing much better than your average Republican, and a lot of that has to do with McCain's appeal with independent voters. And whether or not that holds up from here to November is an interesting question. But certainly, John McCain's maverick brand, his relationship with independents, really has helped him in this type of environment.

So I think it's two things. It's Obama's weaknesses and also some of John McCain's strengths. That said, the latest AP poll had Barack Obama 6 points over McCain, and if Barack Obama wins a 6-point election come November, that would be one of the biggest election margins of victory we've seen in the last few presidential cycles.

Schaller: It's funny, I have heard repeatedly from pundits, and I think that they're right about this, that this election is mostly going to be a referendum on Obama. Mark Shields recently on "The NewsHour" made a comparison to the 1980 race, the argument basically being that the country was unhappy with Jimmy Carter then; the country is unhappy with George Bush now. Even though I think Ben Ginsberg's point that it's not Bush running again and not necessarily an heir apparent in McCain, still the parallel here is people in 1980 were not quite sure about Reagan and it was up to Ronald Reagan to assuage and assure the country. Is that a fair parallel? Does Barack Obama need to pass a minimum threshold, and if so, what is it going to take to do that?

Murray: I completely agree that the 1980 comparison is apt. And a lot of the burden is on Barack Obama to make the sale, just as [it was on] Ronald Reagan in 1980. And as we all saw, Reagan was able to make that sale. It wasn't apparent in poll numbers in the summer, but once you got to the fall, and once you ended up getting to the debates, it was clear that Reagan was going to be the big winner.

Pretty spectacular factual butchery for a respected journalist.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 10, 2008 8:34 PM

What's most hilarious about this "Obama as Young Reagan" meme is how 180 off it is.

Reagan challenged two major pillars of establishment thinking: his desire to break with the prevailing Keynesian economic and his idea that the Soviet Union was not to be accomodated but to be challenged.

Reagan's sell was to convince the electorate that he was correct on both points. Hence the Democratic cries of "Voodoo Economics!" and "Warmonger!"

Obama has an entirely different problem. Though he has tried to position himself as an Agent of Change, it has become increasingly obvious that he is (as OJ correctly observes) merely a stock Northern Liberal with nothing new to add. To get elected he has to sell his personality as he has no policy positions to peddle. The McCain campaign has already picked up on this. Since Obama's personality is rapidly being defined as elitist, arrogant, distant and un-American, I'd say the only question remaining is how bad Obama's loss will be in the Electoral College.

Posted by: Dreadnought at August 11, 2008 4:42 AM

I remember the blank look of shock on my social studies teacher's face the day after the landslide. He'd been very confidant about Carter.

Posted by: Buttercup at August 11, 2008 7:07 AM

Who could have been confident about Carter? Even all the lefties I knew at Penn State were aware of his foolishness. On election night, I remember several of my 'social science' friends walking in to the TV room at around 8:00 PM, only to have them stalk out 10 or 15 minutes later, their faces red and glaring.

Why should Schaller be any different (than the rest of the media)? He is no John Burns or Michael Kelly.

Posted by: jim hamlen at August 11, 2008 7:30 AM

Jim Hamlen: If the lefties at Penn State were aware of his foolishness then why did they "stalk out 10 or 15 minutes later, their faces red and glaring?" Seems like they would've already been resigned to the loss.

Posted by: Buttercup at August 11, 2008 9:38 AM

People forget that the race was considered too close to call even on election day and that the debate--the only debate--was only a week before the election.

I bet the two liberals in our fraternity a chug a state, did my 6 as the networks called pretty much the entire country at the same time, turned to them and said: You owe me 44 apiece.

Posted by: oj at August 11, 2008 10:33 AM
blog comments powered by Disqus