Obama vs. McCain Fall Preview
Bill Kristol, fresh from various cocktail parties with conservatives and a couple of e-mails from Democrats, lays out his vision of how a general election contest between Barack Obama and John McCain will play out.
He dismisses the notion that the prolonged, bitter fight between Obama and Hillary Clinton will ultimately hurt the Democrats, figuring that Clinton will graciously concede a month or so from now when it becomes more clear that she can’t win and that a media “love fest” will ensue. That strikes me as right.
Regardless, shockingly, he predicts a McCain win:
But Republicans will. Last week, over drinks, one Republican strategist not affiliated with the McCain campaign mused about how an independent advertising effort against Obama might work. “Barack Obama: He’s not who you think he is” would be the theme. The supporting evidence would come from his left-wing voting record in Illinois and Washington, spiced up with fun video clips of Reverend Wright.
Who ultimately wins? In politics, as in life, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Many Republicans I know see the weaknesses of their party and of the McCain campaign all too clearly, and assume Obama will prevail.
But a surprising number of Democrats with whom I’ve spoken expect a McCain victory. One told me he was struck by the current polls showing a dead-even race, suggesting both a surprising openness to McCain among Americans who disapprove of Bush and a striking hesitation among the same voters about Obama.
Then there’s the fact that we’re at war. As a Congressional staffer put it, “Here’s something to consider: Although Hillary will be out in May, she may determine the outcome in November. McCain’s secret weapon — among Clinton supporters — may be Hillary’s 3 a.m. national security ad.”
And an experienced Democratic operative e-mailed: “Finally, I think [McCain’s] going to win. Obama isn’t growing in stature. Once I thought he could be Jimmy Carter, but now he reminds me more of Michael Dukakis with the flag lapel thing and defending Wright. Plus he doesn’t have a clue how to talk to the middle class. He’s in the Stevenson reform mold out of Illinois, with a dash of Harvard disease thrown in.”
In a close race, that “dash of Harvard disease” could be the difference.
I agree that the “He’s not who you think he is” theme will sharpen the race and that national security will continue to be McCain’s biggest advantage. But the idea that Obama is Dukais — much less aspiring to be Jimmy Carter but falling short — is silly. He’s much more charismatic than either man and appealing to an electorate desperate for something different.
It’s also true that Obama has done a better job of appealing to the Democratic elite than to blue collar voters. Then again, he’s winning. By definition, that means he’s getting a huge number of middle class votes. Further, he’ll ultimately pick up most of Clinton’s supporters.
McCain and Obama are both different enough from the recent nominees of their respective parties to put a handful of states that have been solidly Red and Blue in play. Both appeal to moderate voters. It’s going to be a very interesting race. And almost certainly not a re-run of Bush-Dukakis or Carter-Ford.