Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Friday, May 30, 2008

Obama-McCain Numbers Game

Reading tea leaves from the new November polls is as hard as it was a year ago to see what was really going behind the numbers that showed Hillary Clinton running away with the Democratic nomination.

Now, despite post-Bush Republican disarray, the new Pew poll shows "a tightening general election matchup between Obama and McCain" under a headline that says, "McCain's Negatives Mostly Political, Obama's More Personal."

It's tempting to decode that as racism, but the reasons are surely more complicated.

For a start, there is the question of familiarity. Like Clinton, McCain has been in national politics much longer than Obama with a reputation for being strong-minded and independent, an edge that may account for some of his support as it did in the case of the former First Lady last year among voters who don't follow politics closely.

Moreover, the Clinton campaign's attacks on Obama are still fresh, as reflected in figures that show only 46 percent of her supporters saying the party will unite behind him in November.

Over the next five months, Democrats will be faced with healing those wounds and winning over Obama doubters who find his promise of change threatening rather than hopeful.

The candidate himself will have to do the heavy lifting to persuade the 82 percent of voters unhappy with the way things are going that he is a better answer to their disaffection than a Republican, no matter how personable, who will continue Bush's policies on the economy and the war in Iraq.

Obama's choice of a running mate will weigh heavily in that equation. After that, he surely will have to go to Iraq and show himself as a potential commander-in-chief who can connect with the troops while winning the respect of their senior officers, even as he proposes to change the policies that have mired them there.

The election is his to lose, no matter what the tea leaves say now.

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