Can They Catch Up?
by William Kristol
10/13/2008, Volume 014, Issue 05
The odds are against John McCain and Sarah Palin winning this election. It's not easy to make up a 6-point deficit in the last four weeks. But it can be done.
Look at history. The Gore-Lieberman ticket gained about 6 points in the final two weeks of the 2000 campaign. Ford-Dole came back more than 20 points in less than two months in the fall of 1976. Both tickets were from the party holding the White House, and both were running against inexperienced, and arguably risky, opponents.
What's more, this year's race has already--twice--moved by more than 6 points over a span of only a few weeks. The race went from McCain up 2 (these are the Real Clear Politics averages) on September 14 to Obama plus 6 on October 2, less than three weeks later. In the four weeks before that, the race had moved from Obama plus 5 on August 12 to McCain plus 2 on September 12.
So while there's reason for McCain-Palin supporters to worry, there's no reason to despair.
Despair is what the Obama campaign is hoping and working for. If a campaign can convince supporters of the other candidate that the race is effectively over, the enthusiasm and volunteer efforts drop off--as does, ultimately, their turnout on Election Day. Just as important, undecided and loosely affiliated voters become persuaded there's no real contest and lose any incentive to look closely at the candidates. This explains the efforts of the Obama campaign--aided by a colluding media--to sell the notion that
the race is over, that McCain supporters should give up, and undecided voters should tune out.
That's why the events at the end of last week were so important.
On Thursday night, Sarah Palin more than held her own in the vice-presidential debate against Joe Biden. She may well have stopped the McCain campaign's slide and, with her assaults on Obama's tax-and-spend liberalism and his willingness to lose in Iraq, set up McCain for a strong performance in Tuesday night's debate.
On Friday, enough House Republicans came around to pass the $700 billion financial bailout. It's no magic bullet, either in terms of the economy or the McCain campaign. But it gives both a chance.
McCain's decline in the second half of September is easily explained. A huge financial crisis coming to a head less than two months before Election Day is going to hurt the candidate of the incumbent party. The situation was made worse by the perception that not only was a Republican administration presiding over a financial meltdown, but congressmen from the same party were obstructing efforts to deal with it.
McCain's decision to come back to Washington to try to work out a deal was therefore sensible. While the Bush administration and the congressional Republicans were squabbling and Rome burned, McCain had no chance. Now there is a deal, and the political bleeding may have been staunched. McCain can go on the offensive for the final weeks.
But what kind of offensive?
The positive component is pretty straightforward: McCain and Palin are common sense conservatives and proven reformers. The record of reform can be emphasized and contrasted with Obama's and Biden's record of conventional, go-along, get-along liberalism. And implicitly: If McCain and Palin are reformers and outsiders, it's not Bush's third term. More important is the negative message. The McCain campaign has to convince 51 percent of the voters they can't trust Barack Obama to be our next president. This has an ideological component and a character component.
Character is a legitimate issue. Obama hasn't shown much in the way of leadership or political courage, and he's consorted with dubious figures. It's fair to ask whether Barack Obama is personally trustworthy enough to be president, and the McCain campaign shouldn't be intimidated from going there.
But one shouldn't underestimate the ideological issue, and the potency of the fact that Obama and Biden are orthodox liberals. They're for raising taxes, federally funding abortions, naming activist judges, and losing wars. The American people may think--they do think--the country's on the wrong track, that the Bush administration has made too many mistakes and that the Republican party's no great shakes. But they haven't suddenly become liberals. And they probably aren't crazy about the prospect of a liberal administration governing unchecked, hand in hand with a liberal Congress. During the next four weeks, the McCain-Palin campaign should make this risky prospect vivid.
Saturday, October 04, 2008
Can They Catch Up?
Posted by Falling Panda at 12:40 PM