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Why is Obama not holding a commanding lead right now?
Posted by: McQ on Monday, August 04, 2008

Violence in Iraq is down to 2003 levels, the Congress is in recess for a month, and frankly we're entering what should be a very slow news period. So you can expect some "inside baseball" posts about the political campaigns as they enter their last 3 months (thank goodness) before the election.

George Will hits on one of the most intriguing aspect of the campaign so far. What does Barack Obama have to do or say to close the deal? This year, by all estimates, should be a walk over for Democrats. Nothing, as concerns their electoral goals, should be in question if you believe the conventional wisdom.

Yet today, Rasumussen points to the first time in their daily tracking poll that McCain has taken a lead over Obama.

Why? Why doesn't Obama have a 10 point lead over McCain?

Will covers recent swing Obama took through Europe and the fact that it brought nothing, in terms of electoral residuals, to the Obama camp:
But polls taken since his trip abroad do not indicate that Obama succeeded in altering the oddest aspect of this presidential campaign: Measured against his party's surging strength in every region and at every level, he is dramatically underperforming. Surely this fact is related to anxieties about his thin résumé regarding national security matters, the thinnest of any major party nominee since Wendell Willkie in 1940. But the fact also might be related to fatigue from too much of Obama's eloquence, which is beginning to sound formulaic and perfunctory.
In other words, people are beginning to look beyond the words as they've become somewhat used to the rhetoric. And perhaps his other point is valid as well. Obama has been in the headlines for 16 or 17 months. Perhaps it is more than just fatigue from "too much of Obama's eloquence". Perhaps it is Obama fatigue in general.

With the tight primary race which kept him in the news, followed by the European trip in which the media fell all over itself to give wall-to-wall coverage, perhaps people are simply growing tired of Obama in general. I mean being behind McCain at any point in this process, given the expectations for Democrats, can't be helped but considered "underperforming" as Will points out.

So what is it? Why is Obama, who everyone agrees is a great speaker and an attractive candidate, running this close to John McCain at this time?

I mentioned this last night on the podcast, and I believe this to be part of the problem - while Europeans love to talk about their disdain for America, Americans, while not quite as open about it as their European brothers, match their disdain for us with disdain for Europe. So trotting off to Europe to stage-manage a spectacle of 200,000 cheering Germans may not be the best way to impress American voters.
Cosmopolitanism is not, however, a political asset for American presidential candidates. Least of all is it an asset for Obama, one of whose urgent needs is to seem comfortable with America's vibrant and very un-European patriotism, which is grounded in a sense of virtuous exceptionalism.
Also beginning to really come to the fore is the lack of resume. 10 years in public office, 5 of which have been spent running for higher office. He is the John Edwards of this election cycle. And Edwards was a 15% candidate, partly because he was so inexperienced that voters were leery of him in a leadership role.

Then there is the blatant fact that we're at war. Not just Iraq which seems to be winding down, but the longer running war in Afghanistan which presently has no end in sight. So the commander-in-chief role is also beginning to come under scrutiny and again his very thin resume is not helping him. Nor is the fact he was dead wrong about the surge.

Domestic issues are where Obama should have a commanding lead, and in most cases he does. The question is, is that enough? The further question is, can he hold on to that lead? The economy is issue number one, and the number one economic issue is the price of fuel. There Obama and the Democrats sit on the other side of the vast majority of Americans who have decided that exploiting our resources of oil and natural gas is something which should be done and done immediately.

And any look at the "why" of his seeming underperformance must also factor in race. Race has been injected into this election as much by Obama and his supporters as anyone. I think you have to assume that some level of the "Bradley effect" is in play in this election as well. But I'll again point out that it isn't Republicans that will be responsible for such an effect - they're not going to vote for him to begin with. If there is a Bradley effect in this election it will be because Democratic voters (or those professing to be Dem voters supporting Obama) will not pull the lever for him in the voting booth because he is black.

All of this combines to make this a very complex campaign season. Obama continues to cast about for a way to portray himself in a pleasing way to the majority of the voters while the McCain campaign seems content, at the moment, to help frame the perception of Obama in a way which most helps them.

I think that right now it is the result of three things - Obama fatigue, success by the McCain campaign in characterizing Obama unflatteringly, and Obama inability to hit upon the formula of appeal necessary to win in November - which has the numbers this close.

Whether Obama can overcome the Bradley effect, satisfy those concerned about his thin resume and change the perception of him that the McCain campaign is trying to paint remain to be seen (and O-Force One isn't helping). If not, we all may be in for a surprise in November, especially the Democrats and their "can't lose" candidate.
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Previous Comments to this Post 

I know it’s a bad year for Republicans, but still I can’t help wondering why a moderate Republican war hero with a long and distinguished political career isn’t utterly trouncing an ultra-liberal junior Senator with a virtually nonexistent résumé. I shudder to think what today’s polling numbers would look like if the G.O.P. had appointed a solid conservative instead.
Written By: Xrlq
Simple really, small-town, mouf-breathin’ God-Bag, Jeebus Freaks are clingin’ to their antipathy of someone who looks diff’rent an’ they gunz, dude...

Short-answer: They’re Crakcers!
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
. . .I can’t help wondering why a moderate Republican war hero with a long and distinguished political career. . .
He’s not a moderate Republican war hero unless, by moderate, you mean back-stabbing or eye-gouging.

And, as for the long and distinguished political career there is not a single significant segment of the right-hand side of the political spectrum that he has failed to alienate over his career.
Written By: Arcs
URL: http://
an ultra-liberal junior Senator with a virtually nonexistent résumé.
Mostly because the ultra-liberal part of the question remains in doubt for most people. They haven’t really be introduced to his actual resume. he was in the IL State Senate for 7 years and that’s hardly been touched.
Written By: Keith_Indy
The problem with Obama is that so far he has run on the bland hopey-changey feel good vibe. It was deliberately bland so that anyone can project their wants and desires on him as a candidate. That was good enough to carry him through the primaries.

Well hope and change have worn off as campaign rhetoric. He needs to talk about something new. Except any actual policy stands dispel his power as the blank slate candidate. People suddenly start saying "well that isn’t the change I’ve hoped for." If McCain starts sounding better then they start switching sides. About the only people he won’t lose are the racial identity voters.
Written By: Jeff the Baptist

I hate to curse, and I know I will get banned if I try to do it, but there is one surefire and simple reason why Obama is not winning and, I believe, will ultimately lose this race.

People are just not buying his sh!t.

In a time when Bush is so unpopular, the Dems should have this election sewn up already. When they don’t, questions have to be asked why. And all we need do is look back to the last 20 Democratic primaries. Even though everyone but the dead knew that Hillary Clinton could not catch up and that Obama would win the nomination, he still lost 17 of those last 20 contests - some by double digits or more. Can anyone show me in ANY electoral history - not just modern, but any - where the person who has locked up the nomination of their party loses primaries instead of winning them? After all, when that person has the nomination locked up, the party regulars as well as the everyday voters validate the choices made by earlier regulars and voters and vote FOR the presumptive nominee. Yet, in contest after contest, Obama either lost his behind or won by a few bare points.

My theory? The later Dems were sending a signal: "We have seen this guy in action and he is not someone we can support." Forget Dems supporting him; the new polling shows that McCain is widening his lead amongst independents.

So, to sum up, Obama was a great early primary candidate, when "hope" and "change" were great mantras. But, with no substance behind them, not to mention that the issue which gave him the nomination, that being his opposition to the Iraq war, is now off the table, while gas prices are front and center, and he is a disaster on that issue. But he has been a lousy closer (the opposite of the Yankees’ Mariano Riviera) in the primaries, and while he is charismatic in speeches, without a TelePrompTer he is a flop (remember the ABC debate in Phllly, where it was painful to see how bad he muffed up the questions, many of which were softballs). He has been an awful candidate since he wrapped up the nomination, and he has refused town hall debates with McCain.

As I said before, people are just not buying his sh!t. And if they haven’t by now, they won’t. And that’s why he will lose.

Mark my words.
Written By: James Marsden
URL: http://
It drives me batty when people compare McCain to Bush. "He’s Bush 2" "George W. Bush’s third term" "1,000 times worse than Bush". McCain may be many things (moderate or "eye-gouging, backstabbing") but he is no George W. Bush. The differences between the men are legion, and I really wish someone with a bit of a platform would trumpet those differences.

I think most Democrats would be okay with a McCain presidency, if they could think back to before this election cycle and what opinion they held about McCain before he was "Presidential Candidate John McCain (R)". He’s become a Republican pinata that embodies everything the left hates about Bush.

There was a Robert Smigel cartoon back in 2000 that depicted McCain endorsing the candidacy of W. One of his "Fun with Real Audio" shorts. I think McCain should run that as a campaign ad. Or someone should resurrect some of the ’glowing’ things Bush said about McCain during that race, and post them to YouTube. If the left can see McCain as a reasonable alternative to Obama, I think he’ll stand more of a chance for election.
Written By: Ronnie Gipper
URL: http://
I shudder to think what today’s polling numbers would look like if the G.O.P. had appointed a solid conservative instead.
This is the fallacy of the current Repubican Party. Portray themselves at Democrats-lite will somehow get them elected.

Democrats made gains because the Republicans had turned into bloated self-serving politicians. You could put some of that portrayal on the media, but the Republicans actually did their fair share of living upto that portrayal.

People want some integrity and sense of service. Republicans after being beat up in 2006 still exude next to none of that. Democrats get the job by default. Which is why Congress’ rating is at 9%. Now that they have the job, the public finds them no different.

And running around saying ’me-too’ or saying ’we’re Democrat-lite’ doesn’t generate sense the republicans have principle. In fact someone sticking to Conservative Principles would probably be respected. OTOH, if you do that you will get yourself put in the media crosshairs now because you’ll stand out and they need to make an example out of you.

The media and the currently spineless ’me-too’ Republicans have made it hard to stick to Conservative Principles. At the same time, looking principled is exactly what the people want. Obama exerts this through Charisma and a friendly media. But Charisma eventually wears off. McCain has this through his war record and a formerly friendly media.
Written By: jpm100
URL: http://
Mr. Obama’s wins were mainly in caucus primaries that depend on activists not the voters; he was not the choice of the people. My elderly relatives, FDR Democrats all, will not vote for Mr. Obama. Some of them retain the old anti-black bias. The one, who could be called a bit of a racist, would have voted for Colin Powell had he been running. So race is NOT the biggest factor for those I know.
Written By: AMR
URL: http://
James - I don’t think we’ve ever banned anyone for cursing. Just replace your vowels with symbols so it stays work-safe.
Written By: Bryan Pick
My dem friend keeps telling me the GOP needs to challenge McCain constitutionally as not being eligible to run for president so the GOP could get a better candidate to run against Obama. He suggest Huckabee/Thompson.

I’m not sold on this theory. The mention of Huckabee suggests he’s looking for a fantasy candidate to get beaten by Obama.
Written By: Harun
URL: http://
I just saw the McCain add calling Obama a celebrity... it’s actually quite well done. I’d like to see a little more of that from McCain.
Written By: meagain
URL: http://
How did everyone miss this ...
There’s nothing exotic or complicated about how phenoms are made in Washington, and, more to the point, how they are broken.
"Andy Warhol said we all get our 15 minutes of fame," says Barack Obama. "I’ve already had an hour and a half. I mean, I’m so overexposed, I’m making Paris Hilton look like a recluse."
Written By: Neo
URL: http://
Obama had a healthier sense of himself in those days. Since then he has become unmoored and is rising like a great helium balloon.

Ultimately this hubris will do him in—preferably before the election and not after. I grow more optimistic, though, that he will lose as the gap between the grand image he portrays and the confused narcissism he displays becomes clearer to all voters.
Written By: huxley
URL: http://

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