The State of the Presidential Race

“Don’t believe the hype.”

Today is the first day of the Democratic Convention. So get ready for a lot of fluff, a lot of spin, from both the media and the Democrats, all to convince us that things are just hunky dory in Democrat land, and that Obama and Biden are all but guaranteed an easy waltz into the White House. Perhaps there will even be a poll showing us that McCain might as well pack it in, because he and his Party are toast.

Don’t believe the hype. The fundamentals of the race haven’t changed. And I strongly believe that McCain is now the favorite for the Presidency in 2008.

“You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.”

Barack Obama, the Democrat nominee for President, has a big problem. During the past year, he has made a relatively poor first impression with the average American voter, endangering his race for the Presidency in a year when a generic Democrat was supposedly a lock to win this office. In the space of a year, Obama has managed to create the impression of himself as a liberal, race focused, inexperienced, younger than he looks, elite snob who gives a good speech from time to time but has almost no issue substance behind his otherwise nice guy exterior.

How has he done this, you ask? Well, here are just a few things that Obama has done to help create this horrid first impression:

· His many empty speeches about “hope” and “change”.

· His multiple gaffes where he said something obviously untrue – see his primary season tale of the rifle platoon foraging for ammunition and weapons from the Taliban and his more recent account of his abortion record in Illinois.

· His multiple gaffes where he first defended some nutball associate – see Jeremiah Wright – and then was forced to backtrack from his support.

· His multiple gaffes on foreign policy issues – see his willingness to meet at the Presidential level without preconditions any dictator or international miscreant, his indecision on Iran’s threat level (is it grave or not serious?), and his ambiguous blather about the Russian invasion of Georgia.

· His multiple gaffes where he exposes his true inner elite feelings – see his “bitter” comment.

· His constant promotion of liberal issues which just don’t resonate with the American public – see climate change and class warfare.

· His use of commercials extolling a non-existent record – see welfare reform and health care for veterans.

· His inability to create a crisp soundbite without plenty of extraneous “uh’s” or “ums” or losing his train of thought.

· His creation of an Obama seal for the Presidency, and his “Presidential tour” of Europe.

· His decision to go on vacation, and stay on vacation, when a major international crisis erupted in Russia. (Good god, he was photographed surfboarding while this crisis was going on!)

· His increasing wimpiness in dealing with his rivals, whether it be the Clintons (giving them several days of his convention) or John McCain (begging McCain to acknowledge his “patriotism”).

Meanwhile, the first impression John McCain has left with the public, in this campaign, is merely an updated version of his first impression from eight years ago – now, instead of being the experienced, straight talking, Maverick, reform Republican who is not George Bush, McCain is the mature (but not elderly), even more experienced, straight talking, Maverick reform Republican who is not George Bush.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

The RCP national poll average has Obama up 45.5% to 43.9%. So, things look good for Obama, right? Not really. To know the full picture, we need to know who the undecided voters are. Well, on TV just a few hours ago, pollster Frank Luntz let loose the worse kept secret in politics today – the undecided are largely white, blue collar Democrats or independent voters, largely located in the Midwestern states, who make between $30-75,000 a year. And the Pew poll, the Gallup poll, and Rasmussen poll, and even the Zogby (Reuters, that is!) poll all confirm that this group is the crucial swing demographic.

And guess what – this demographic is exactly the group of voters that Barack Obama has had the most problems appealing to in the primaries? Look at both the Pennsylvania and the Ohio Democrat primaries, where the undecided vote was the exact same demographic. These primaries followed the exact same trajectory – when the vote was far off in the distant future, Obama had the edge over Hillary, but the closer the election got, the more the undecided swung against Obama. Maybe this is a result of the Bradley Effect, and/or maybe this is as a result of Obama’s bad first impression. Any way, regardless of the cause, it clearly exists.

Now, perhaps things are going to be different in the general election? Do we really believe this? The past shows us – see above – that Obama isn’t a particularly good candidate. Is that suddenly going to change in the next two months? Not likely; that takes years of experience on the campaign trail, which Obama just doesn’t have. And even assuming Obama himself suddenly and inexplicably shapes up, just what kind of negative attacks can his campaign use to turn the undecided voters against their own inherent distrust of Obama?

· Is it “McCain is a Bush twin”? That seems hard to believe, since McCain has spent the past eight years thumbing President Bush in the eye on issues like tax cuts, campaign finance reform, Iraq, etc., and the media has spent those same years promoting McCain as the anti-Bush Republican.

· Is it that McCain is too old? Only if McCain has a major “senior” moment, right in front of the cameras.

· Is it that McCain is too rich, and/or doesn’t know how many houses he owns? This class warfare is as old as our Republic, and it has rarely worked in the past. Besides, why would Obama attack anyone about houses, when he knows that the inevitable response will be “Rezko”?

· Is it that McCain is in favor of the Iraq war? Sorry Dems, but even with the media downplaying it, a majority of the public now knows that we have won that war.

“Slow and steady wins the race.”

So what does McCain need to do to lock up a win in 2008? Just run a decent campaign (and not have any senior moments). McCain needs to keep up a steady drumbeat of attacks on Obama for his liberalism, his gaffes, his inexperience, and his nutball associates. Also, McCain needs to avoid any unnecessary major mistakes that might be prompted by a rash decision. For example, he can’t chose a liberal Democrat like Joe Lieberman for VP to “shake up the race”, as that would just antagonize his base. Further, McCain needs to control his famous temper, and he needs to be extra careful to avoid blowing a debate by talking down to his opponent, as Al Gore did in 2000 (and as McCain did in at least one of the primary debates).

PS: Perhaps I am just a cockeyed optimist. But check out Steven Warshawsky, writing for the American Thinker, who also thinks McCain is the favorite (although I think he takes it too far by saying McCain is a lock).