Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Photo: Chicago Tabloid

A Referendum
on Obama?
..And on Us!

By Don Rose
Chicago Observer

A Republican strategist was quoted recently saying if the presidential race is about McCain he loses--if it's about Obama, then McCain has a chance.

That's another way of saying this race is a referendum on Obama. Or, to put it as another friend did, it's Obama's to lose.

Thus far he's winning. But before Obamaniacs or other Dems revel too joyously in the thought, there are two points to remember:

1. It ain't over 'til it's over, four months from now.

2. Obama continues to run substantially worse than the hypothetical generic Democrat, meaning the public has not yet fully made up its mind about him.

Which is to say that if the candidate were, say, John Edwards or any such substantial white guy it would, for all practical purposes, be over right now.

I might add that if Sen. Hillary Clinton were the candidate, the race would be a referendum on her, though the panoply of issues that separate them might be different.

I warned earlier that all polling to date must be taken with large doses of salt, but one pattern has been fairly consistent: Obama's lead has ranged from roughly 4 to 8 points while the generic Democratic vote this time around ranges from 10 to 12.

Democrats hold the edge on just about every issue: the economy, health care, the wars, energy, education and all their subgroupings-though the GOP still comes close or ties on terrorism/national security matters.

Obama holds the edge on McCain on most of these except the constellation of experience/commander-in-chiefship/terror. Hardly surprising, even for many Democrats to think this way. This gap may close substantially as a result of Obama's currently successful tour of the Middle East (which is only half over as I write this). McCain, after all, has been around a long time and continues to bask in his long-ago reputation as a maverick. In the public eye he is a war hero. He has a lot of experience--though certainly his judgment and deportment are open to question.

Obama could have made hay on his superior judgment, say, in opposing the war, but his judgment on associates such as Rev. Wright and Tony Rezko sort of blunts that issue in the public perception.

On energy, McCain has a significant advantage with his focus on coastal drilling and a gas-tax holiday--both totally phony solutions, but highly popular. Obama's refusal to pander here works to his disadvantage.

There are other readily explainable reasons why Obama runs behind the generic Democrat: His exotic background--African father, Indonesian schooling, oddball middle-name and so forth also come into play. Yes, the phony charge that he is a secret Muslim understandably thrives in that medium like fungi in a Petri dish. Remember the huge numbers of people who still think the 9/11 terrorists came from Saddam Hussein's Iraq?

Nevertheless, Obama clings to a mid-single-digit lead in the national polls both because he is a Democrat and an otherwise supremely gifted and charismatic politician with a superb organization. Even more heartening for Democrats, in the state-by-state polls to date he stands at the brink of a possible electoral landslide. (I will deal with these prospects in a later column.) As the weeks go by and he becomes better known, he can narrow more and more of the margin McCain holds on him in certain areas.

Conversely, McCain's and other Republican attacks could exacerbate his problems and even cause new ones.

Which gets us down to the real, still largely unspoken question of race. There are still loads and loads of Democrats and independents who are unlikely to vote for him because of what still remains what Gunnar Myrdal called 'the American dilemma'.

That is the real referendum on Obama. More importantly, it's a referendum on us.

[Don Rose is a Chicago political consultant, and active in Chicagoans Against War and Injustice]

1 comment:

Bill Baar said...

Which is to say that if the candidate were, say, John Edwards or any such substantial white guy it would, for all practical purposes, be over right now. kidding.

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