Saturday, July 12, 2008

McCain vs Obama early analysis

By Rick Morris

With the worst electoral landscape for an incumbent party since 1980, Barack Obama enters the lead-up to the fall campaign as a solid favorite -- but not the overwhelming one that he should apparently be at this time. The Real Clear Politics composite poll puts him at a 4.2% lead presently, roughly in line with my gut feeling that he's up about six points nationally. Why isn't the lead bigger right now given the degenerating state of affairs in this country that has been an albatross around the neck of the entire Republican brand?

1. John McCain isn't perceived as a typical Republican or a clone of George W. Bush -- no matter how much the Democrats push that narrative. It's a cliche, but he does have that maverick image. It's been said by many that he's the only Republican that could have had a chance this year -- I disagree as I still think that Fred Thompson could have been an absolute machine if he had been nominated -- and it's true that his distance from the wildly unpopular present administration works greatly in his favor.

2. Obama is the freshest face to be nominated by a major political party since Jimmy Carter. He has to surmount the suspicions of voters who still don't know him all that well. In many ways, his circumstances are similar to the ones faced by the man who beat Carter, Ronald Reagan, in 1980. With the country suffering greatly, the biases against Reagan because of his age and his (alleged) extremist ideology mattered less than the fact that he projected a take-charge image that people needed. Like Reagan, Obama has to cross that threshold of acceptability with enough people and he will win, perhaps by a solid margin. If not, he could still squeak by or he could lose narrowly.

3. The race issue is cutting into what would be a bigger lead by Obama. Many blacks and whites will, frankly, cast their ballots solely because of race. It's sad but true. It's an absolute disgrace when people choose to vote on this basis as opposed to legitimate issues, but it will happen and the unprecedented turnout and mobilization that will occur in the black community will not make up for the whites who won't vote for Obama because of pigmentation. I do believe that the final results will demonstrate that fears of massive white bigotry working against Obama are way overblown, though.

I would classify this race as Obama's to lose, with McCain having a chance if he were to pull the political equivalent of an inside straight. Everything would have to line up perfectly for him, but if it does, he could certainly win this race.

Presently, RCP has the race projected at 304-234 for Obama in the Electoral College and I would concur with their projections in all of the states right now except I see McCain winning Indiana's 11 electoral votes, so I have the race at 293-245., another excellent political source, has Obama up 312.4-225.6. I see the most winnable states for McCain that are presently in Obama's column as follows, in order of likelihood of switching:

1. Ohio (20 electoral votes)
2. Michigan (17)
3. Colorado (9)
4. Pennsylvania (21)

With McCain needing to flip 25 electoral votes from the present map by my calculations, you can see some of his potential combinations shaping up right there. Be mindful that certain scenarios are floating around that would put the candidates at a 269-269 tie, throwing the outcome according to the Constitution to the tender mercies of Nancy Pelosi in the House of Representatives.

Because Obama opted out of the public financing system for the general election, contrary to his previous promises, our good friend (who is part of our new content-sharing club) Scott Pullins of The Pullins Report broke it down a few weeks ago:

"... campaign finance experts and Democratic fundraisers say a conservative estimate of Obama’s general election fundraising potential hovers around or above $300 million.

Such a massive financial advantage will allow Obama to compete in more states than McCain and force his rival to defend states that should rightfully be Republican wins."

And that's the key to the entire matter. On a state-by-state basis, Obama can flood the ones leaning his way with money and can also pour vast money into ones that McCain is straining to defend. With McCain limited to $84 million and Obama at the helm of a money machine that could approach $500 or $600 million, cash is the single most important reason that Obama is a solid favorite. Republican-oriented 527s look like a paper tiger in this election season, as no credible sources seem to be emerging to fill that money gap in any way.

Both men face tremendous challenges in selecting running mates, with deep but flawed fields of contenders on both sides. Each must balance several competing imperatives.

McCain must check off as many boxes as he can on this list:

^ Acceptable to a base that still views him with suspicion but not easily painted as out-of-the-mainstream (and yes, John, much of the base still despises Mitt Romney!)
^ Someone with their own strong reform credentials (possibly a big-time populist like Alaska Governor Sarah Palin)
^ Someone who is not tied to the Bush Administration in any way (nice knowing you, former Bush trade representative Rob Portman)
^ Someone who is young enough to reassure voters that a vibrant person is waiting offstage if fears about McCain's age and health come to pass (working against a great candidate like Thompson, who would enable the Democrats to tar the ticket as "two old white guys")
^ Someone to balance out McCain's very little executive experience (which hurts Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who has performed many administrative functions but is still relatively new in his job)
^ Someone who can ignite some actual enthusiasm for McCain among Republicans (Mike Huckabee would accomplish this with social conservatives, but he is still viewed with suspicion by many economic conservatives)

Simultaneously, Obama must go down a list of his own:

^ Someone who can placate still-angry Hillary voters (so a woman like Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius is right in the mix)
^ Someone who can reassure skeptical voters that Obama is not a left-wing nut job but still in the American mainstream (Indiana Senator Evan Bayh is almost right from Central Casting in terms of this consideration)
^ Someone who can balance Obama's complete lack of executive experience (putting governors like Pennsylvania's Ed Rendell, a key Hillary ally from a critical state, on the short list)

This is a year in which micro considerations like "so and so can help carry this state" will not be a factor -- in order to be selected, a running mate will have to demonstrate an ability to "move the map" in different geographic areas and also demographic categories.

Another "X factor" in the race will be Obama's decision to deliver his Democratic nomination acceptance speech in the Denver Broncos' football stadium rather than at the convention hall. The image of 76,000 passionate Obama supporters delivering multiple standing ovations will be one of the dominant snapshots of the fall campaign.

For all of Obama's experience, he has had an extraordinarily well-run campaign, one that toppled a virtual incumbent in Hillary Clinton. McCain cannot hope to win based on rookie mistakes, because they will not materialize. His only conceivable path to victory lies in convincing enough people in enough close states that Obama's policies would accelerate our nation's present decline and lead us off of a cliff. As someone who is casting my vote purely on that basis, a deep fear of the outcome of Obama's proposed public policies, I am living proof that McCain can find persuadable people. He is extremely unlikely to win the popular vote, which will enrage liberals anew if another Republican president takes office that way, but that is a Constitutionally irrelevant detail. At the moment, McCain needs everything to go right, but he can still pull off the upset. I'd say the odds are 70-30 Obama as of today.

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