With Obama failing to truly break away from McCain in most polls, The Politico has put together some interesting tidbits of information which may concern the Obama campaign.
1. Race. â€œThe idea that Obama was going to win in a blowout was always preposterous,â€ says former Nebraska senator and onetime presidential hopeful Bob Kerrey, an Obama backer. â€œA big piece of this, of course, is whether white people are going to support a black guy. … If [Obama] is a tall, skinny white guy named Paul Jones, it’s a different story.â€
Obama is running nearly neck-and-neck with McCain among white voters in most polls, a major cause for optimism considering that John Kerry lost the white vote by 17 points and that Al Gore lost it by 12 points. Among whites, he does well with women, the affluent and college grads but fares poorly among low-income earners and Catholics â€” key swing groups that handed Hillary Rodham Clinton stunning blowouts in West Virginia and Kentucky.
How much does his race factor into tightening contests in Missouri, Wisconsin, Florida, Minnesota and Ohio? Nobody knows â€” and thatâ€™s the problem.
A huge challenge for Obama, insiders say, is simply determining how much skin color will matter in November. Race is nearly impossible to poll â€” no one ever says â€œIâ€™m a racistâ€ â€” and no campaign wants it revealed they are even asking questions on the issue.
â€œItâ€™s the uncertainty that kills me â€” we know itâ€™s going to be factor, but how big a factor?â€ asks a Democratic operative with ties to the Obama camp. â€œHow do you even measure such a thing?
Adding to the jitters: GOP surrogates like New York Rep. Peter King have vowed to make Obamaâ€™s relationship with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright a centerpiece during the homestretch.
2. Obamaâ€™s strength in Virginia may be overhyped. His chances of ending the Democrats 44-year losing streak in the commonwealth are pretty good â€” thanks to the explosive growth of the liberal D.C. suburbs, and a 147,000 spike in voter registration sure to benefit Democrats. But Obamaâ€™s aides privately concede his odds in Virginia are probably no better than 50-50 and that the state is far from a lock-solid hedge if he loses Ohio and Florida.
3. Michiganâ€™s in play for McCain. In the year of the downturn, the hard-hit upper Midwest should be prime Obama country. Instead itâ€™s a potential minefield. Obama is still ahead by two to five points there â€” similar to margins of victory enjoyed by Gore and Kerry in the last two presidential contests â€” but McCain has quietly crept up over the past month and could vault ahead if he anoints ex-Gov. Mitt Romney as his running mate. Simmering tensions between predominantly black Detroit and its white suburbs could hurt Obama. And McCainâ€™s surrogates were handed a gift in the jailing of Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, an Obama supporter.
â€œWatch Michigan â€” the Democrats think they’ve got it but they don’t,â€ says Quinnipiacâ€™s Peter Brown, a longtime Michigan observer. â€œObama should be killing [McCain] there, but there’s a lot more racial tension in Michigan than in other states.â€
Obama also hasnâ€™t pulled away in other Democrat-friendly neighboring states, watching leads in Wisconsin and Minnesota erode over the last month.
4. Bad times could be good for McCain. If anger helps Democrats, fear works to the advantage of Republicans. A growing number of Democratic strategists worry that some swing state voters may opt for McCain if the economy veers from merely awful to downright terrifying. The typical political calculus â€”that bad economic times will deliver the White House to Democrats â€” may not hold if people start viewing the downturn as, essentially, a national security crisis that canâ€™t be entrusted to a novice. And that was McCainâ€™s underlying message in his Paris Hilton ad: Bank failures, soaring gas prices and plummeting house values are forms of economic terrorism, and heâ€™s an all-purpose anti-terror warrior.
â€œJohn McCain is a known quantity,â€ says Bob Kerrey, who thinks Obama will ultimately prevail. â€œYou don’t look at John and say, â€˜Who the heck is he?â€™. He’s a veteran, he’s a guy who got pretty banged up in Vietnam. He can deal with crisis. There’s some uncertainty about Senator Obama.â€
The good news for Obama, of course, is that McCain â€” who infamously admitted he â€œnever understoodâ€ economics â€” is loathed by unions, was somnambulant at the dawn of the housing meltdown and still gropes for a coherent economic policy that doesnâ€™t include the words â€œoffshore drilling.â€ But he doesnâ€™t have to win the argument, just reinforce doubts about Obama with wavering swing state voters. The Illinois senator still enjoys a major edge on the economic issues, but his 20-point June lead on the question of who can best fix the economy slipped to a 17-point edge in July, according to the Pew Research Center.
â€œObama wins on the economy,â€ said Guy Cecil, Hillary Clintonâ€™s field director during the primaries. â€œBut it will be interesting to see if McCainâ€™s able to close the economic gap.â€
5. Where have you gone, Ross Perot? Bill Clinton, the lone two-term Democratic president since FDR, wouldnâ€™t have been elected if independent Ross Perot hadnâ€™t siphoned 19 percent of the vote in 1992. Former Georgia Rep. Bob Barr, staging an indie bid from McCainâ€™s right, has little cash and doesnâ€™t seem to be a factor in competitive states.
6. The Legacy of LBJ, Jimmy and Bubba. Barack Obama would have been a trailblazer no matter what â€”but the Democratsâ€™ trail to the White House has been remarkably narrow since 1960, accommodating only Southern whites with border-state strength: Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. (Add Al Gore if youâ€™re counting the popular vote.)
7. Americans may want divided government. Some Democratic operatives think a possible landslide for their party in congressional races could backfire on Obama.
â€œFairly or not, folks think heâ€™s pretty liberal and nobody wants a pair of Pelosis running things,â€ says a New York-based Democratic consultant.
Adds Bob Kerrey: â€œThe country’s still pretty divided â€¦ people may want a divided government. They want change, but I’m not sure that the Democratic agenda has the support of a majority of Americans.â€
This certainly is not to say that McCain doesn’t have equal challenges, however, it does seem to indicate that Obama hasn’t had a free ride thus far. McCain could have a similar list concerning the Iraq War and other items such as GOP control for the past 8 years.
I’d say both candidates have reason to worry with the campaign becoming a close race, or so it seems.