According to reports, the polls for the presidential campaign are tightening with various polls showing John McCain either even or within the margin of error with Barack Obama. Most previous polls had shown Obama ahead by 6 to 15 points (I never believed this one). Now to be fair, it is way too early to put any stock in the polls but the fact that in a "Democratic year", McCain is able to pull close is significant. Talking heads on cable news have all kinds of theories as to why this is. Not surprisingly, I have my own thoughts.
I think it is hard to give McCain credit. The poll numbers certainly are not because of the spectacular campaign he has run, he hasn’t actually started campaigning yet. He makes occasional speeches but he hasn’t actually formulated a coherent message yet. Here’s hoping he does before December.
One could argue that McCain’s effect on the polls could be from his stability and familiarity. As Obama has become erratic in his message and as it becomes more and more apparent that he has no foreign policy experience, McCain seems a safer choice. One large advantage McCain has over Obama is experience. This may be a significant advantage as the election draws nearer. In the spring when the election is six months away, it’s easy for people to be attracted to Obama’s feel good message of change. As we get closer to the election, it seems more real and people may become more concerned with Obama’s lack of experience.
I think though that the change in numbers is largely because of Obama. Obama is finding the inherent problem with liberalism, people don't buy it. Liberalism works well in the Democratic primary, in fact it's required. But when you move to the general election, a candidate finds that the people who buy into the ultra leftist message are a small minority of the general population. So when moving on to the general election, a candidate has to move to the center to attract moderates. No surprise here, candidates of both parties do it.
Obama’s problem though is he was too good at being an ultra leftist ideologue. He went so far to the left that he cannot come back far enough for the moderates. This was exacerbated this year with the intense and protracted primary between Obama and Hillary Clinton. They were put in the position of trying to ‘out liberal’ each other.
This has also cost him support among his base. He had them believing he was the real deal, one of them, and they are upset with his shift to the center. He has especially angered people on the left with his changing (sometimes in the same day) positions on the Iraq war. He made some comments indicating he may be willing to listen to the Generals commanding the war when deciding how he would proceed with his troop draw down. While this is completely logical and is the only truly safe way to proceed, it was met with howls of protest from the far left. The anti-war crowd is unbending In their approach to the Iraq war. They want it over. They don’t care about the cost, they don’t care about the safety of the Iraqi citizens, they don’t even care about the safety of the US or the troops that would be withdrawing. They just want us out, now. For most of them, this is the only issue of the campaign. Further, this group is extra sensitive because they feel they were betrayed by the Democrats in the 2006 mid-term elections. They were promised in no uncertain terms that the Dems would end the Iraq war if given control of Congress. What happened in reality is that the newly elected Democratic majority effectively became George Bush’s lap dog on the Iraq war. They essentially made no meaningful progress on withdrawal and continued funding the war mostly on his terms. The left is in a very sour mood about this.
To maintain his support on the left he over corrected and turned hard left again, which is costing him with the moderates. More importantly it made him appear indecisive, highlighting his inexperience, and is further feeding into the perception that he is not the “change” candidate, or a new type of leader, but instead a retread of the old style politician who is willing to say anything to get elected. After breaking promises on campaign financing and not being willing to debate McCain in town hall meetings, Obama’s strikes against being an advocate for change are starting to add up. Even more damaging is his constant insistence that he is not changing his position. His Iraq war position follows a typical script for him. Make a statement for/against something, be criticized, change his position, release a statement saying he did not change his position he was for/against this particular issue all along, the media releases a video clip contradicting him. You almost think the Dems haven’t heard of Lexus-Nexus or knew that news networks archive video tape.
Another issue that may be hurting Obama is gas prices. American’s are growing restless on runaway gas prices and Obama, along with the rest of the Democratic party, is stubbornly remaining on the wrong side of the issue. This may cost him and may be reflected in the polls now.
Lastly, the aura surrounding Obama is losing it’s luster. The constant changing positions, the Rev Wright’s, the hateful statements by his wife, and the perception that he is just another politician are taking their toll on Obama’s mystique.
I wondered early on if he maybe was peaking too early. The election cannot come early enough for Obama. It is very possible the slide backwards is not over. There are two real risks for Obama. One, the numbers are even and the Republicans haven’t really started campaigning yet. Once the GOP and the right leaning 527’s start running ads Obama has a real risk of being defined by them. Second, there’s always the chance that McCain might actually campaign. If the polls are tied now with McCain’s campaign asleep, what would happen if he actually came to?
I still maintain that there is not only a chance McCain will beat Obama, I think the Congressional races are not carved in stone yet. Obama’s popularity could be slipping, the Democrats keep ignoring the gas price crunch and stick to the far left positions on the issue, and, am I the only one noting that the Dems are starting to collect scandals? This may not be the Democratic year everyone is forecasting.