JOHN KRAHNERT: Obama Needs a New Campaign Strategy
Somehow, John McCain keeps defying the odds.
The Gallup Daily Tracking Poll released Wednesday showed Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama with a one-point advantage over his Republican opponent, McCain -- well within the margin of error. Last weekend, McCain had enjoyed a two-point advantage in the poll, his first lead of the summer, despite Obama's highly anticipated announcement that Joe Biden would be his running mate last Friday.
What's going on here?
Conventional wisdom says McCain should be getting crushed in this contest. Before this campaign, Democrats were salivating at the opportunity to paint the country blue, increasing their majority in Congress and taking back the White House.
For a while, that possibility seemed very real. President Bush's approval rating is in the cellar, approaching some of the lowest numbers ever for an American president. Vice President Dick Cheney's is even worse, below 20 percent, and he is in jeopardy of becoming the least popular politician since Aaron Burr.
In addition, the GOP was destroyed in the 2006 midterms, and Democrats gained control of both houses of Congress for the first time since 1994. A Democratic mandate seemed inevitable after Obama's meteoric rise to fame during the primary season.
Come on. How could the aging McCain compete with America's first "rock star" politician since Jack Kennedy?
Simple. Obama's campaign strategy isn't working.
There's no doubt that Obama has inspired millions of Americans and generated tons of new voters. But the vague "Change We Can Believe In," "Yes We Can," and "Reclaiming the American Dream" shticks are getting old.
At this stage of the game, just two months from the election, voters want answers. How are you going to fix the economy? What about gas prices? How do we deal with Russia? People can believe all they want, but they know only Obama can provide those answers.
Obama's plan to label a McCain presidency as the "third Bush term" hasn't really worked either. While McCain may have made a critical error by not distancing himself from the president enough, a lot of people still identify McCain as a maverick and find that independence appealing. Many voters associate the Iraq "surge" and subsequent decrease in violence in Iraq with McCain and also appreciate his willingness to criticize the Bush administration and speak his mind.
Perhaps Obama's biggest error has been trying to beat McCain on foreign policy, something he cannot do.
Polls overwhelmingly show that McCain beats Obama on international affairs. Iraq has faded into the background for the most part, so questioning McCain on that doesn't help Obama much. The only way he can win this election is by sticking to the economy and other domestic issues. There is plenty of material there with which to hit McCain and the Republicans.
Meanwhile, McCain has stayed on message and hammered Obama on his lack of experience, one area on which he can beat Obama. He can't match the record crowds, charisma, or attention, but he can raise questions. He has used footage of Biden and Hillary Clinton praising his own experience and criticizing Obama's perceived weakness.
It's far from doom and gloom for Obama, though. McCain is prone to mistakes, such as the seven houses gaffe, which could hurt him. He also faces a make-or-break selection for VP this week. If he fails to make a pick that fires up the conservative base of the party, the game could be over. He has to give evangelicals and voters who prioritize moral issues a reason to vote. I'll say it again: Mitt Romney does not give those crucial groups a reason to support John McCain.
Regardless, it's time for Obama to get nasty and fight back. Biden will relish being an attack dog, but Obama needs to become one too. Cut the fluffy language, run some negative ads, and get to the point. Make the economy the focal point from here on out. Find a way to appeal to the working class voters that supported Hillary. Give people a clear understanding why McCain can't turn the economy around or solve the energy crisis.
That's a change voters might believe in.
Staff Writer John Krahnert, a recent political-science graduate of Boston College, can be contacted at 693-2473 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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