Sunday, July 06, 2008

Rothenberg Gets It Wrong

Along with Charlie Cook, Stu Rothenberg is one of the two "go-to" guys for the conventional wisdom on elections and the current conventional wisdom is that the underlying trends point to an Obama victory.

The "fundamentals" are clear.

On McCain's side, there are Bush's poor approval ratings, the unpopularity of the war in Iraq, and an economy that is sliding into recession.

If that weren't trouble enough for McCain, Obama is going to have more money (bias alert: I've contributed to the Obama campaign), voters clearly prefer the Democrats, and the Democrats are more enthusiastic about the election than the Republicans. It's almost unfair to mention that Obama's a much better speaker than McCain.

For Rothenberg, this means that Obama "merely has to take advantage of the political current" in order to win the election.

But the conventional wisdom is wrong. Obama is not going to be able to just ride his advantages to victory. Obama has to go out and win the election.

The key number to consider here is that John McCain is viewed favorably by 55-60% of voters (depending on the poll). What that means in McCain's case is that he's a familiar and well-liked politician who voters are willing to support. If anything, McCain is better liked and trusted by independent voters and Democrats than he is by conservative Republicans. Most Republicans will vote for McCain because he's not a Democrat, but independent voters and some Democrats look on him favorably enough that he can be considered the "default" candidate, the candidate they know they can vote for if they decide they don't like or trust the opponent.

This is how McCain won the Republican nomination. GOP voters first tried on Rudy Giuliani, then Fred Thompson, and then Mitt Romney. When Republican voters decided that they weren't comfortable with these guys, they went back to McCain because they already knew him.
The same thing could happen in the general election even though so many "fundamentals" are going Obama's way.

In the final analysis, Obama has to prove himself in order to win and he has a lot to prove.

Obama has to prove that he has the resiliance, flexibility, and stamina needed to stand up to the Republican attack machine. Republican 527 groups are starting to roll out the attack ads. Obama needs to respond effectively. Voters of all ideological persuasions suspect the Democrats of being weak, indecisive, and unprincipled. How Obama responds to Republican attacks will go a long way toward overcoming that perception . . . or not.

Obama also has to show that he has what it takes to go toe to toe with McCain during debates, deal with McCain's caustic put-downs, and come out ahead. Obama rejected McCain's proposal for ten townhall debate. Still, Obama would be better off accepting a lot of debates whatever the format and then going after McCain once the debates start.

And Obama also has to prove that he can seize the initiative in defining public debate during the campaign. The Obama campaign did better this week because surrogates like Wesley Clark, James Webb, and John Kerry were tough on McCain's military background and judgment. But they need to keep up the momentum.

If Obama can prove himself, he'lll win handily. However, if Obama fails to define himself as a strong and decisive leader, enough voters will go back to John McCain as the default candidate that McCain can win a close election .

Of course, that assumes that McCain doesn't blow up his own campaign, something he's perfectly capable of doing.

Unless McCain self-destructs, the election is in Obama's hands.


Ted said...

Romney adds a net nothing to the ticket; his negatives at least approximate the positives.

McCain NEEDS Alaska Gov Sarah Palin (if he wants to win in November) — whose positives are too numerous to mention here (with no negatives).

– and don’t cite Palin’s lack of experience, since she’s got 10 times that of Obama!!!

Ric Caric said...

The fact that nobody in the lower 48 knows Palin's name might be interpreted as a negative.

Michael said...

Unless McCain self-destructs, the election is in Obama's hands.

So if McCain self-destructs, then what? The election is out of Obama's hands and into.... whose? Do you ever even bother to read your own bullshit?

Ric Caric said...

Michael. I realize that I'm doing one of those complex "two-sided" analyses and that you're going to have a hard time following.

But I'd appreciate it if you tried.

If McCain self-destructs, Obama will win in a walk. But if McCain does not self-destruct, he'll be taken as a "default" candidate like he was during the Republican primaries.

That leads us to the Obama side of the analysis. There are two conditions under which Obama wins handily. As I've already stated, Obama wins easily if McCain self-destructs. Obama will also win easily if Obama "proves himself" during the course of the campaign. If Obama shows that he's a strong and decisive leader, then he'll win easily no matter what McCain does. That's the sense in which the election is in Obama's hands.

If Obama doesn't prove himself, then McCain has a shot at a close win as a default candidate.

I hope that wasn't too much of a strain.