GOP Facing Significant Hurdles

With the Democratic candidacy decided, the GOP is beginning to assess its base. All ready, there are distressing signals from various parts of the Reagan/Bush Republican foundation.

In an article labeled “Religious Right Figure Gets Chills” by the Huntington Post, a pundit estimates nearly 40% of Christian evangelicals will vote for Barack Obama.

“With clients like Focus on the Family, Franklin Graham, and Campus Crusade for Christ, Mark DeMoss may be the most prominent public relations executive in the evangelical world. A former chief of staff to Jerry Falwell, DeMoss became then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s chief liaison to evangelical leaders.”

In a new interview with Dan Gilgoff for BeliefNet’s God-o-Meter, DeMoss explains the lack of religious enthusiasm for McCain and predicts a potential major shift to Obama.

The McCain campaign took efforts to dispel concerns over McCain’s chances, citing RCP polls that show McCain and Obama in a dead heat. Nonetheless, pundits from different news sources cite growing Republican concerns.

According to Thomas Edsall from the Huffington Post, June 8, 2008:

Rick Davis, McCain’s campaign manager, has posted a PowerPoint study asserting that McCain currently hold slight leads in Wisconsin, Michigan, Missouri and Nevada, and that Ohio is “a dead heat” and that Pennsylvania could go Republican. “This is a very good position for our campaign to be in,” Davis contends

In fact, the survey data is not as favorable as Davis claims – Obama leads in all five of the most recent Pennsylvania polls by an average of 5.8 points, and he leads in Wisconsin by 2 points. Polling in the 19 states identified by RealClearPolitics as battlegrounds shows Obama in a better position than McCain, ahead in such Bush ’04 states as Colorado and Iowa, and running very close in Virginia, New Mexico and Nevada.

In addition, the data on RealClearPolitics dispute another of Davis’ claims — that McCain has stronger favorable/unfavorable ratings than Obama. Instead, the recent average for McCain is 47.3 favorable to 40.8 unfavorable, or a +6.5; for Obama, it’s 50.3 to 38.5, or +11.8 .

In not-for-attribution interviews, a number of Republicans were neither optimistic about his chances nor positive in their assessment of his campaign so far.

“I think we’ve got a world of problems,” said one Republican strategist with extensive experience in presidential campaigns. He said this came home to him with a thud when he watched Obama and McCain give speeches last Tuesday, with the Democrat speaking before “20,000 screaming fans, while John McCain looked every bit of his 72 years” in a speech televised from New Orleans. This Republican cited the liberal blogger Atrios’ description of McCain’s speech with a green backdrop that made McCain “look like the cottage cheese in a lime Jell-O salad.”

Politico’s Jonathan Martin raises other older issues, such as McCain’s independent streak and temper in the June 8, 2008 edition:

After Romney, who’d been accused of altering his positions to appeal to Republican primary voters, described himself as a change candidate, McCain, sporting a smile that could cut glass, shot back with “We disagree on many things. But you are the candidate of change.” Thanks to his own personal tenacity and a weak GOP field, McCain’s penchant for the putdown never really backfired during the primary.

Now, with more attention and less margin for error, McCain may need to watch his quick tongue.

Asked about his candidate’s tone, McCain adviser and speechwriter Mark Salter said that the campaign would strive to remain civil.

“In terms of contrasting with Obama, we have to be respectful and honest,” said Salter.

Noting that Obama would challenge McCain’s reputation for independence, Salter said they would defend themselves by “honestly illustrating it with examples from his record and extend it by discussing the widespread reforms he’s running for president to achieve.”

As the smears rise from Republican and Democratic camps, both presidential candidates are struggling to preserve their identity as a “different kind” of politician. Older issues for Obama, such as Jeremiah Wright connections and “Islamic” roots, and maverick style politics and age, will become more prominent as the race continues. From the GOP’s standpoint, the question now is how to play defense.