07 May 2008

Game Over

The 2008 session of the Colorado General Assembly finished twenty-six and a half hours early.

Rumors are swirling that the protracted battle to become the Democratic nominee for President this year will also end, with a concession from Hillary Clinton this Wednesday. Disappointing performances in North Carolina and Indiana have set the bar very high for her to win the nomination. She has cancelled all of her morning appearances for tomorrow. Even if she doesn't concede tomorrow, the main stream media has finally discovered what the delegate wonks have know for some time now. The writing is on the wall for Hillary Clinton's campaign.

The polls show a close race between Barack Obama and John McCain right now. But the polls are wrong. It isn't that they are an inaccurate gauge of public opinion right now. They simply fail to predict the dynamics of six months of general election campaigning. In November, Obama will win by a landslide and will have significant coat tails, although not necessarily a filibuster proof majority in the U.S. Senate.

The signs of Republican collapse abound. Back when both the Democrats and the Republicans had contested primary contests, turnout for the Democrats vastly exceeded turnout for the Republicans. McCain won the GOP nomination with plurality support in the face of a divided conservative wing of the party, almost running out of money in the process. Now that McCain is the presumptive nominee for the Republicans, he is still hard pressed to get much more than three-quarters of the vote in GOP primaries, even though all of the other candidates have dropped out of the race. New voter registration is up phenomenally and overwhelmingly favors Democrats. A Democrat won a Louisiana Congressional vacancy race this past week in a district where 59% of voters pulled the lever for George W. Bush. Republican voter ID has sunk to record lows during the current Bush administration. Republican fundraising has sagged below that of Democrats in the Presidential, Senatorial and Congressional campaigns, despite the fact that the Republican party has historically been the party of the rich. Republican retirements from Congress greatly outnumber Democratic retirements, despite the fact that there are fewer Republicans in Congress than there are Democrats.

McCain's political instincts are abysmal. He has embraced a war in Iraq that is exceedingly unpopular politically. He has emphasized his ties to George W. Bush, the least popular President in the history of polling. He has argued for doing nothing in the face of a subprime mortgage led credit crunch that has spooked the nation. Whether or not McCain is right on the merits on any of these issues, he has been oblivious to the sentiments of the average voter.

Greater scrutiny of McCain now that he is the Republican Presidential nominee, has revealed him to be a tired angry old man with lecherous tendencies, questionable associates, and intellectual acumen only slightly greater than the incumbent President. One can only get away with playing the common man while riding in the family jet for so long before the image wears thin. Conservatives are unenthusiastic about McCain because of McCain's repeated high profile stances on a variety of issues that marked him as a moderate Republican despite a fairly conservative voting record. McCain's commitment to the Iraq War and exposure of his character flaws, as well as his swing to the right during primary season, have hurt McCain with independents. McCain's much longer voting record than Obama, provides fuel for all sorts of questions about his political ideology. McCain has upset everyone and left them guessing, by flip flopping on federal judicial appointments, first scorning Scalia and Thomas in widely echoed remarks to party insiders, and then embracing them in the swerve to the right that comes with the GOP primaries.

Many Clinton supporters, in the heat of a seemingly never ending primary season have proclaimed to pollsters that they would rather vote for McCain than Obama. Few will follow through on that threat, particularly if Obama makes a decent VP choice. Meanwhile, the hot Democratic primary campaign has trained and energized hordes of enthusiastic Obama supporters. I've met the odd McCain supporter, but I have yet to encounter a really enthusiastic one this election cycle, even though I recall many of them back in 2004.

Closely related is Obama's ability to campaign. Lots of politicians go through the motions of campaigning. Some, like Joe Lieberman, are so bad that their poll numbers tend to go down when they make a string of public appearances. Most politicians, and both McCain and Clinton are among them, may slightly nudge their polling by campaigning, but largely rely upon the well settled political preferences of the people they are making their case to, focusing more on getting out the vote than on changing minds. Obama's poll numbers, in contrast, tend to significantly improve when he gets on the ground and does his dog and pony show. Public speaking is a dying art, but Obama rivals the Kennedy clan with his eloquence. And, when Obama has stumbled on the campaign trail, he has managed to respond without sacrificing his dignity or unduly straining his credibility.

Don't get me wrong. I don't agree with Obama on every issue and he is far from a flawless candidate. But he doesn't have to be. He simply has to be superior to McCain in a nation sick of the Bush Administration that wants to like any Democrat they can.

The Republican woes extend down ticket. Colorado is typical. In Colorado, Republicans have chosen one of the most conservative men ever to serve in Congress as their U.S. Senate candidate in a state that is becoming bluer by the month. They are squandering their dwindling campaign coffers over infighting in the 5th and 6th Congressional Districts, and defending perennially weak candidate Marilyn Musgrave in the 4th Congressional District which would be safe with any other GOP incumbent. One of their own in the state house defected to the Democratic majority this session. The Republicans have a misogynist playboy with a bad case of foot in mouth disease running a dismal campaign for a state legislative seat in the mountains. A Republican vacancy committee gave Democrats a gift money couldn't buy by appointed gadfly Doug Bruce to a seat in the state house, producing a string of embarrassing incidents that drew denunciations from his own party members in an attempt to control the damage. Instead of spending money on solid campaigns for partisan elected office, Republican interest groups will be sparring over high profile ballot issues involving labor unions, affirmative action and abortion that will produce few tangible results in a state where private sector labor unions are rare, affirmative action has a modest impact in a mostly white state, and Roe v. Wade is still the law. Democrats have issues on the ballot as well, but can afford to lose them and change the law through legislation instead, if they must.

Traditional Republican campaign themes have outlived their due dates. Eight years of Republican tax cuts culminating in a bipartisan economic stimulus payment in an election year, have defused the traditional GOP issue of excessive federal taxation in this election cycle. It is hard to make guns the center piece of your campaign when the Democratic nominee says that he believes that the Second Amendment creates in individual right to bear arms (albeit subject to reasonable restrictions) and the U.S. Supreme Court looks like it is on the verge of making that opinion a matter of constitutional law. The debate over Reverend Wright has opened the door to questioning the extremism of McCain's religious advisors, and this, combined with fundamentalist Christian embarassments like the FLDS polygamy raid in Texas and Obama's strong convert's Christianity, has helped defuse the God issue in this race. Republican credibility on the issue of fiscal responsibility has been obliterated by the massive deficits wracked up under every GOP President from Reagan onwards, juxtaposed against the surpluses of the Clinton administration. A weak U.S. economy that has left most people worse off than they were four years ago has left McCain with a tough case to make that he would turn things around that he hasn't even really tried to make. Democrats have developed something of a consensus about the immigration issue, shared by many moderate Republicans and a majority of the American people, that has split the GOP between cheap labor Republicans and xenophobic Republicans. Americans are finally getting tired of using money that could go to colleges to have the highest incarceration rates in the world, muting traditional tough on crime campaign themes.

In short, 2008 shows every sign of being the most disasterous year for the Republican party in recent memory. Colorado's Republican party chairman doesn't even claim that he can produce much by way of results this cycle. He simply argues that he will build up a bench that will eventually be ready for prime time in future election cycles. This is not the rhetoric one hears in a year where the balance of power is as close as recent polls suggest.

1 comment:

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

According to NPR this morning, HRC is sticking it out a little longer yet.