Political Strategy: Handicapping The Homestretch genre: Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation


Now that it appears that John McCain has the inside track on the Republican presidential nomination, it's time to draw some general election comparisons with his two potential Democratic opponents.

Before focusing on narrow specifics, my general impression has long been that McCain is the most formidable GOP candidate...despite the tepid support he receives from establishment conservatives and his shaky bona fides with the evangelical base.

Race & Gender:

When looking at either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, both must overcome potential bias...her with regards to being a woman and him with regards to being an African American. My own suspicion is that gender and race could cost either candidate a segment of the voting public. I'm of the opinion that could equate with a low to mid single digit percentage. Advantage McCain.

Conversely, race and gender may be an advantage for both candidates with their respective voter contingencies. If so, it would seem that Senator Clinton would have the most to gain given that women make up a larger portion of the overall voting public. However, that advantage may be somewhat offset by the fact that Clinton elicits high negatives amongst GOP voters. No clear advantage.

Experience (Age) vs. Change:

With regards to experience, the lines of demarcation are relatively clear. Clinton and McCain have more experience and each can be viewed as a Washington fixture. McCain can argue his maverick persona gives him an advantage over Clinton...pointing out that her election would be a return to a prior era of partisanship and acrimony. At the same time, John McCain's record as a Senate contrarian could lead some Republicans to sit out the election. No clear advantage between Clinton and McCain. Both have an advantage over Obama.

As to change, this may be an area where one candidate has an unmistakable advantage. The mood of the country and voter dissatisfaction with the country's direction support the notion that voters are looking for measurable and meaningful change. Obama's age and his inspiring orations position him as a man of vision. Advantage Obama.

Nonetheless, that segues into two important caveats. One, while Obama's message of change provides him with a noticeable advantage, the degree to which he is able to convince voters he can implement it and that they should forego the safety of two known commodities would be essential to his success in capitalizing upon it. Two, this requires a look at age. McCain could appear too old and Obama could be viewed as too young (green vs. eclipsed). Thus a slight advantage affords to McCain based upon historical data suggesting that the elderly turn out in greater numbers than the youth vote. Clinton's age is generally neutral though her primary success with the elderly offsets McCain's age advantage and leaves her with the same narrow potential preferential over Obama.

Foreign Policy & Terrorism:

This is truly a wildcard factor given the uncertainty with Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and terrorism (al Qaeda & the Taliban). The status of these situations just prior to the election can and will likely alter this calculation. At the moment, I view the situation in Iraq as a wash between the Democrats and the Republicans. The reduced violence resulting from the surge minimizes the advantage of calling for immediate withdrawal. Additionally, while a wide majority opposes the war, the preferred exit strategy is murkier.

With regard to individual candidates, Obama and McCain have an advantage over Clinton based upon their positions having been more consistent.

If we approach the election with Iraq achieving the political resolutions identified before the surge, McCain likely has an advantage over Obama based upon the voter belief that the GOP is strong on national defense and the Democrats are more inclined to measured diplomacy. McCain would also have an advantage over Clinton but possibly not to the same extent.

If Iraq fails to progress, or deteriorates as the election approaches, Obama would have an advantage over both Clinton and McCain. Obama's persistent opposition to the war would trump Clinton's evolving position as well as McCain's strident support. In this scenario, voter dissatisfaction should bode well for Obama. Advantage Obama.

A terrorist attack in the homeland prior to the election would likely provide McCain with a marked advantage based upon his incessant argument that radical Islamic extremism is the "transcendent issue of the 21st. century? and his military credentials.

Obama could argue that Iraq was an unwarranted distraction from the primary goal of combating terrorism...but the fact that the Democrats have failed to push that position since taking control of Congress in 2006 would likely handicap that argument and be overshadowed by the constant GOP contention that we must defeat the terrorists on their soil. I believe that the virtual silence of the Democrats since 2006 would be portrayed as indecision and political calculation and afford McCain and the GOP the high ground.

As long as Iraq is left to fester unchallenged, the GOP will appear to have demonstrated the willingness to lead and the Democrats will be seen as enablers looking to straddle the fence. Advantage McCain.

The Economy:

Assuming the downturn will persist until the election, voter concerns will benefit the Democrats. McCain's downplaying of his economic credentials coupled with his focus on cutting spending may be warranted sincerity...but it could also be the wrong message for these difficult economic circumstances.

Clinton's policy dexterity should provide voters with tangible solutions to consider while Obama's calls for a new direction could be the rejection of status quo politics that Americans seem to be willing to chance. Equal advantage to Obama and Clinton.


Of all the Republican candidates, McCain stands to receive the most Hispanic votes based upon his support of the president's plan that provided for a path to citizenship. At the same time, he will need to appease the GOP base and their insistence that any form of amnesty be removed from the equation. That puts him in a tough spot and is apt to limit his appeal to Hispanics.

If the Democrats approach immigration by proposing meaningful border security, demanding real employer accountability with regards to curtailing the hiring of illegal employees, and pointing to the impracticality and extremity of deporting 12 to 15 million illegals, they can convince a majority of voters that the GOP has been disingenuous in fomenting fear with calls for harsh measures...especially in the aftermath of their own lackadaisical enforcement of existing laws in order to appease their corporate benefactors. Advantage Clinton and Obama.

Health Care:

I believe 2008 will be the turning point in the health care stalemate. It's an issue whose time has come. I say as much because its impact is being felt by a large majority of Americans and they envision it will inevitably get worse. As such, I suspect that candidates that fail to offer significant proposals do so at their own peril.

The GOP and Senator McCain will likely posture in opposition to the ambitious plans of the Democratic candidate; offering little more than their standard fare solution of market driven expanded access to health care...fully ignoring that cost and affordability are the fundamental and immediate concerns of most Americans. The lack of tangible measures intended to install a new system rather than expand upon a broken one will cost the GOP votes. Advantage Clinton and Obama.

Looking at the Clinton and Obama health care proposals, both have merit. The Clinton plan is more amenable to short sound bites meant to engender voter support while the Obama plan is more cognizant of the fact that millions of Americans simply cannot afford health insurance...voluntarily or mandated...and that the solution must address that issue to actually provide health care solutions to those with immense needs and vacuous means. In the end, the existing political landscape probably favors Senator Clinton since nuance rarely works with impatient and inattentive voters.

Independent Voters & Party Expansion:

Hillary Clinton is at an obvious disadvantage with regards to attracting independent voters and expanding the membership of the Democratic Party. Her polarizing persona and her high negatives simply limit her ability to succeed in this regard.

John McCain, on the other hand, provides the GOP their best chance to draw independent voters and expand the ranks of the party. Unfortunately, those gains have the potential to come at the expense of votes from the party's base. Therefore, in relation to Senator Clinton, John McCain has an advantage.

Senator Obama has an advantage over both McCain and Clinton for two reasons. One, the fact that McCain is the likely GOP nominee suggests that the country may be moving towards the center; making independent voters an influential constituency. When that reality is coupled with the desire for change and an end to partisan polarization, Obama offers the least encumbered candidacy.

Clinton and McCain have likely alienated some independent voters with their perceived positional fluctuations. Those actions are apt to be viewed as a propensity to pander more than a willingness to compromise or unite. McCain still holds an advantage over Clinton; but Senator Obama seems to be the candidate best positioned to draw independent voters and expand his party.

What's At Stake:

Voters will encounter a number of difficult considerations as they head towards the November election and choosing our next president. Members of both parties are trying to evaluate their candidates' ability to defeat the nominee of the other party. Simultaneously, the nation is in the midst of tumultuous times that lack the clarity we would no doubt prefer.

The variables in the 2008 election may well exceed the bulk of our prior presidential elections. We're engaged in two wars with an overriding threat of terrorism...we have a woman and an African American running for the highest office...we face the likelihood of a recession and unprecedented declines in home values...and we enter an election year as a nation divided by unprecedented partisanship. Transcending these obstacles would not only be beneficial; it may well be necessary. It remains to be seen if we can turn this pivotal moment to our mutual advantage. The future of our nation likely hangs in the balance.

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» Political Strategy: Handicapping The Homestretch from www.buzzflash.net
The presidential field has narrowed. With John McCain apparently having the inside track on the GOP nomination, it makes sense to handicap his chances against the two remaining Democratic candidates. Our future may depend upon our willingness to transc... [Read More]

Tracked on January 30, 2008 8:42 PM

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