August 31, 2008
Understandably, given the enormous hurricane about to hit the Gulf coast, the Republicans made the right move -- both substantively and politically -- to call off Monday's night's proceedings. The truth is the party will gain more from appearing to be above politics at this time of crisis.
In fact, though no one planned it this way, the week could turn out even better politically for the GOP than planned. Remember we recommended in our Tote Board column on Thursday that the best thing the Republicans could do this week would be to act positive and above politics. Gustav may give them the chance -- as well as a kind of Katrina do-over. And they'll still get to reintroduce John McCain and Sarah Palin to the nation -- if not from Minnesota, then maybe from the Gulf.
August 31, 2008
Two days ago we asked if Barack Obama's acceptance speech had legs, as we expressed skepticism that the speech was nearly as good as the critical reaction. The immediate answer to our question is, apparently not. The tracking polls moved during the convention a bit, but not after "the speech." It may be that the reaction to the Sarah Palin choice took the wind out of the Democrats' momentum.
But the likelier explanation is that while Obama's super-partisan speech appealed to Democrats at home and in the audience, it didn't fare nearly as well among independents and Republicans, despite the record viewing numbers (38 miliion).
August 29, 2008
To say that John McCain has thrown the dice by picking an untested unknown is an understatement. Which raises the question: Even if Sarah Palin does well, does this cause some voters to consider him a bit of a loose cannon? There can be a fine line between being a maverick and being a bit of a nut and with this choice, McCain runs a risk of coming very close to the line.
This isn't to say she might not prove to be a masterful pick. But there's a way in which right now, Barack Obama looks like the more conventional, reassuring figure. That's not what McCain wants voters to think -- not now and especially not in November.
August 29, 2008
Good news for the Obama campaign: Last night's speech attracted an audience of 38 million -- more than 50% higher than the number who watched John Kerry four years ago. As we noted earlier, it wasn't his best speech of the campaign and it wasn't even the best speech of the convention. But it was decent enough that it had to impress some of those new viewers. Let's see how the convention bounce plays out over the next few days -- especially as a GOP convention bound to attract fewer viewers gets going.
August 29, 2008
The early stories are indicating that John McCain may have selected Sarah Palin, the first-term governor of Alaska, to be his running mate. If true, McCain has made a very bold choice -- with both high upsides and downsides. As a woman with terrific appeal to working class voters, she adds excitement and transformative appeal to the McCain candidacy. The party and convention will love her. She will appeal to the Hillary Democrats. And, she should have electoral appeal in some key swing western states such as Nevada.
The downside is that she is completely untested and new -- though not really that much more so, really, than Barack Obama himself. Is she ready to be president? It's not apparent she is at first glance.
All in all, if true -- and if the choice works out in the weeks ahead (a big "if") -- it's a potential stunning game-changer. And it's just what McCain needed (as we wrote earlier) to get his week rolling.
August 29, 2008
The introductory movie was great. The speech? Wonderful setting, it turned out, like a terrific rock concert. But was it too workmanlike? Obama tried to tie his life to the lives of ordinary Americans but the speech surprisingly lacked poetry, great lines, or a compelling narrative. There was no "New Frontier," "Rendezvous with Destiny," or even "I Still Believe in A Place Called Hope." There were no memorable images along the lines of Deval Patrick's wonderful story of the three people in his poor household alternating nightly between a bunk bed and the floor. The speech it was most reminiscent of was Jimmy Carter's 1976 acceptance speech, which began with a wonderful film but never reached those heights again.
So the question is whether it will last. In retrospect, the best speech of the convention was Bill Clinton's; the second-best was probably Hillary's. Obama continues to remain a work in progress --- and a candidate still in need of a better speechwriter.
August 28, 2008
Other than the glitch noted below, the Dems have done a very good job of setting the table for Barack Obama's speech tonight. Wednesday night worked particularly well -- with Bill Clinton, John Kerry, and Joe Biden making the case for the Democrats.
Now Obama in his speech has to show that he's up to the job and understands the country. It will be one of the campaign's defining moments.
August 28, 2008
This has been a convention successfully choreographed down to the last second. That includes the music: When Michelle Obama had finished Monday night the band played "Isn't She Lovely." Last night, at the end, it was "We are Family."
So, how high up in the Obama campaign did the order come to play "Addicted to Love" at the end of Bill Clinton's speech last night? It looked at first glance Wednesday as if the Clintons and Obama were headed to a useful truce. This may set things back a bit.
[Song begins just after 5:00 mark below]
August 26, 2008
Regular readers of this blog know that we welcome "guest hosts" to offer their thoughts. Please feel free to submit to the host (me!) at any time.
Here are Matthew Sawh's thoughts on the first night of the convention:
The First Night: What Pundits Missed
Convention analysts all over the television and internet have been quick to criticize the relatively tame proceedings of the first night. Such coverage misses a crucial distinction: Barack Obama generally wins 80% of self-identified Democrats, John McCain has recently brought his GOP numbers to about 86% of self-identified Republicans. In other words, this is a convention targeted at Democrats, NOT Independents. The media has (again) followed the 2000 and 2004 playbook wherein Gore and Kerry had to win over independent voters and structured their conventions accordingly with Gore's appeals to moral clarity and Kerry's invocation of his service.
Now, it is more than possible that the undecided voter of 2000 or, 2004 has, in 2008, accepted the nominal ‘Democrat’ label but has not yet accepted Obama as their own. This is a valid possibility and meshes with the polling which shows a ten-point generic Democratic congressional lead.
Here is where it gets interesting though: Are these new Democrats cut from the cloth of independents? OR, Are they (as Team Obama projects) new, first-time registered voters of key Democratic leaning-constituencies? Naturally, a little bit of both (with more than a dash of Clintonites).
In that context, the choice to have a tribute to Teddy and, to do some retooling of Michelle Obama's image makes very good sense.
No great public policy issue has been untouched by Teddy. If Obama's goal is to rev-up turnout and, it operates on the assumption that they are largely benefiting from first-time voters, who better than Teddy? Rasmussen Reports has him listed as being seen as a liberal by 70% of the nation. Meanwhile, a recent Annenberg Survey notes that 34% of 18-29 year olds called themselves 'liberal or very liberal' as compared to only 25% of those aged 45-64.
Kennedy as the remaining brother of Camelot bridges the divide between those two gaps for several reasons. First, his ties to the first Catholic president. Second, he reminds the Hillary voters of their youth and, in so doing, softens them up and makes them more receptive to Obama's key message of change by undercutting the most salient criticism leveled about him by Clinton: his inexperience. Third, younger Americans who support Obama remember Teddy as the man who bucked the Clintons and, in so doing, garnered much respect.
Here's what Obama hasn't understood about the Clinton voters: Obama has worked hard and faced adversity, but, he never has shown any cracks in his armor. He's never shown any doubt or momentary lapse that things would be okay.
The Change Argument is a two-sided coin: Heads is showing that we need to change and, he has done a spectacular job of winning that argument. The tougher, tails side is that these Clinton voters, many of them have known pain and disappointment in their lives. The issue isn't believing in the change Obama offers; it is about affording the change.
Obama has used a narrative of American exceptionalism as a weapon against charges of exoticness. Ironically, in defusing his exotic-ness, he emphasizes his exclusivity to these elusive Clinton voters. In the destruction of one 'other' he persists in crafting another, much like a Russian Matryoshka.
The more that we hear about the only in America exceptionalism of a Harvard Lawyer going to the South Side of Chicago, the more unknowable he becomes to these voters who want to vote for him and, often like him personally.
Hillary was a trailblazer because she was a woman, but, also because she had shown us her cracks. Whitewater, Monica, Health Care you name it, she bore battles and when the chips were down she never gave in and never held her head too high. Just like many of her wavering voters.
Obama referred to Biden as the 'scrappy kid from Scranton'. We need to see the humble, grounded scrapper from Chicago. (THAT is why the Celebrity Ads worked; Celebrities lose the spotlight when faced with a crisis) This suggests that he really doesn't understand what these voters are looking for. Or, that he understands all too well and, he has calculated that such exposure would sound like whining (or is too high a price to pay).
Into that breech stepped Michelle Obama, who understands a little better than he does, what these voters are looking for: Their Scars. Although, after the response to her 'for the first time I'm proud' comments suggests it to be an extremely dicey proposition for them in part due to race.
Michelle Obama had a net +21 rating (compared to +27 for Barack) in a recent poll (51-30) with 19% having no opinion. This compares to a +8 for Hillary Clinton and +27 for Cindy McCain. Yet, by comparison, Hillary even after her 1992 'stayed home and baked cookies' and Tammy Wynette comments was found to have a net +31 rating in a Washington Post poll. Yet, according to Rasmussen, Michelle Obama was seen as a liberal by 64% of the nation (to the left of Nancy Pelosi),
Michelle did a wonderful job of humanizing Barack and the Obama family. First ladies have occasionally been pivotal. Dick Morris claimed that Liddy Dole's 1996 Introduction for Bob recounting his WW2 service and overcoming his disability could have teed up the election for him. Had he responded with a moderate, uplifting message, Morris thinks the election could have turned. This is probably not that kind of a moment.
STILL, Michelle probably gained a few points on the evening (and one or two for Barack). She may well be seen as a more moderate figure than she was in that poll which is important. Let us remember the Clinton health plan was defeated more than anything else by Whitewater.
Barack needs a Clinton. Not Hillary, but, Bubba. Not his speech but, learning to speak his language. Barack knows himself too well. His certainty has served as emotional rigidity. At the other extreme, Bill did not know himself well enough and, we were often shown a chameleon.
Can Barack and Bill share the faith of their wives? Or, will they invite the Faith of Our Fathers?
August 26, 2008
A hallmark of American coverage of the Olympics is the way it takes the viewer "up close and personal" -- involving the audience in the personal lives and struggles of the athletes. In its portrayal of the Obamas, the first night of the Democratic convention took a similar approach -- fitting in seamlessly with what audiences had been watching on NBC for the last two weeks. The warm personal vignettes, the family scene at the end, and the stories of relatives were all designed to run up the score on what Slate has called the "sap-o-meter." And, given what TV audiences covet, it probably worked well.
But close personal portraits only work if the athlete in question wins the event. Tune in Thursday to see how that goes. The next two days belong to the runner-ups.
August 23, 2008
Now that Barack Obama has made a conventional choice for vice president, it leaves the door open for John McCain to do something more exciting. If he were, say, to pick a woman -- it would have the potential to blow the election open, especially given the fact that Obama is already showing weakness appealing to women according to the latest Fox News poll.
But who? Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman are intriguing choices but would make it much harder for McCain to make the case against Obama's "inexperience." Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison -- pushed by pundit Dick Morris -- isn't really all that impressive and Biden would probably run circles around her in a debate.
That leaves Condi Rice. Yes, she makes it easier for Obama to argue that McCain would simply be a continuation of the Bush years. And, she has described herself as "mildly pro-choice" -- whatever that means. But selecting her would be a bold, exciting move -- energizing the McCain campaign and ultimately the electorate.
If the right-wing would accept Rice with her abortion views -- a big "if" -- she could well be worth the short-term risk for McCain. The guess here is that it might prove to be a terrific pick.
August 23, 2008
For once, the conventional wisdom got it right: Barack Obama did select Joe Biden, widely presumed to be the front-runner in the veepstakes. His strengths have been well-documented: He's experienced -- especially in foreign policy -- and he's a Catholic who may help the Democrats in the industrial states that will decide the election. He's a fiery speaker too.
But he comes with some downsides. With this pick, Obama hasn't helped himself in any states (he was already going to carry Delaware with all of its 3 electoral votes) and he hasn't expanded the map. Carrying Virginia, for example, seems farther away than ever. Biden is also prone to verbal gaffes and in a presidential campaign, they can derail the whole express.
He's also on record as saying that he admires McCain and that Obama isn't ready to be president. In the old days, it was easier to get around such things but in the You Tube age, expect to hear and see these quotes again -- even in commercials. And, to this observer at least, Biden has always come across as a bit angry and "lecture-y" -- it's hard to see how this will help with women.
In the end, if the experience path was the way Obama wanted to go, the feeling here was always that he should pick Dick Gephardt or Bill Bradley. But it could have been worse. The problem for Obama is that expectations for him have always been so high among some of his core supporters that anyone he picked would be a disappointment.
A NOTE AN HOUR LATER: As predicted, McCain is already up with an ad repeating Biden's comments criticizing Obama and praising McCain. No one said this was going to be easy.