IN early December 2007, when Hillary Clinton was 20-plus points ahead of the Democratic field in national polls, she was a basic weak candidate, a beatable candidate, and polls indicated that Barack Obama would be a stronger match against Republicans.
She had the highest "unfavourable" rating of anyone who had ever run for the presidency, and she was the only Democratic candidate who could unite and energise the Republican base, as she was running 10 to 15 points behind in generic Democrat vs. Republican presidential polls.
But Barack Obama is a different story.
The November presidential election is not going to be close. Barack Obama is going to beat John McCain by 8 to 10 points in the national popular vote and win 300 to 350 electoral votes. Obama is going to wipe out McCain. There are many reasons why.
The Republican Party is led -- and branded -- by an extraordinarily unpopular president, whose policies McCain has staunchly defended and supported (95 per cent voting congruence in 2007). In the recent CBS News and NYTimes poll, President Bush is at 28 per cent approval, 65 per cent disapproval; in the Hart/Newhouse poll, he is at 27 per cent approval, 66 per cent disapproval.
While some presidents have fallen to low levels in the past, what is remarkable about President Bush is how long-term and persistent voter disapproval of him has been, and the depth of voter sentiment.
A May 12 Washington Post/ABC poll showed only 15 per cent of voters "strongly approve" -- while 52 per cent "strongly disapprove.
Voters think, correctly, that the country is on the wrong track. In the Hart/Newhouse poll, 15 per cent of voters said the country was headed in the "right direction," while an astounding 73 per cent said "wrong direction." Remember, these polls include all voters, not just Democrats.
On issues, Republicans are on the short end of everything except the military and national security. Among voters, in the NYTimesCBS poll, when asked which party is better, on health care 63 per cent say Democrats while only 19 per cent say Republicans; the economy, 56 per cent say Democrats, 28 per cent say Republicans; sharing your moral values, 50 per cent say Democrats, 34 per cent say Republicans; and, dealing with Iraq, 50 per cent say Democrats, 34 per cent say Republicans.
The Democratic party has a 52 per cent favourable and 41 per cent unfavourable rating; the Republican party has a 33 per cent favourable and 58 per cent unfavourable rating. A whopping 63 per cent say the United States needs to withdraw from Iraq within 12 months; McCain wants to stay, roughly, forever -- and attack Iran.
The Washington Post/ABC poll asked: "Which party do you trust to do a better job coping with the main problems the nation faces over the next few years?" Democrats were chosen over Republicans, 53 per cent to 32 per cent.
The US economy is sinking, gas prices are skyrocketing; the real estate market has collapsed and people are losing their homes; and the Iraq Recession shows no signs of subsiding.
John McCain has been able to stay close to parity in polls matching him with Obama, but that is the product of the thumping Obama has taken from the Clinton campaign. Once that internal scrap is behind him and he can go head-to-head against McCain, his polling is going to soar.
Even in fund-raising, a traditional Republican strength, the Republicans are at a disadvantage. At last reported count, Obama had $51 million in cash; McCain had $11 million.
In the combined cash of the national party committees, Republicans had $55.5 million; Democrats $87.1 million. The net-roots have raised unprecedented amounts of money for Democrats, especially Obama; labour unions have gone deeper into their pockets and are raising more money for Democrats than in prior elections; and, even business PACs have given more money to Democrats! Business blows with the wind, and it knows which way the wind is blowing.
Simply out, it is the worst possible time for any Republican to be running for president. And this is not simply an opinion: it is thought that has many partisans in the Republican party and among traditional Republican supporters.
Representative Tom Davis, from Virginia, in an internal memo to Republicans, recently wrote: "The political atmosphere facing Republicans this November is the worst since Watergate and is far more toxic than the fall of 2006. The Republican brand is in the trash can. [I]f we were dog food, they would take us off the shelf.
John McCain is, by all accounts, an honourable and decent man. He has earned enormous respect for the fact that he declined the opportunity to be released from a North Vietnamese prison because his father had been a Navy admiral and chose instead to stay with his comrades for 5½ years.
For a substantial period of time John McCain's political career, he was a Republican maverick on various issues, including the environment, immigration, campaign reform, taxes and the budget. These are not inconsequential disagreements with the Republican party, and he has been almost singular in being willing to disagree with the Republican establishment.
But that is the previous incarnation of McCain, not the version seen for the last four years or the version who has to run between now and November.
In addition, it has been suggested that much of McCain's problems can be correlated with post-traumatic stress disorder, which is consistent with his 5½ years of great stress in prison. This would account for his violent temper, his memory lapses, and his frequent mental disconnects.
What US is going to see in the general election from John McCain is likely a ton of mistakes. The thing the press likes about him, his candour and shoot-from-the-hip style, is going to take a heavy toll on him when the full weight of media attention is trained on him.
He never has been a good speaker with a prepared text. The media has always loved the quick, gritty, candid McCain, but that version is gone; he now is a damaged, slower-thinking McCain, but his habits will remain the same.
He will still try to be the quick wit, the maverick; it just isn't going to work.
And while McCain is still capable of firing off some zingers that hit, he will be unable to sustain a narrative -- or fool the American voters -- for the next five months. This is not just about being 71; it is about being an old 71. It might be sad to watch. There is too much at stake.
Obama is the perfect candidate for Democrats and a nightmare for McCain. Obama, who by every metric is a brilliant strategist, thinker and speaker, is going to run circles around McCain. McCain, who is not a very good speaker even on his best day, will appear slow, perflexed and confused; he will make mistakes.
Obama will be charismatic, smart, thoughtful, high-minded, alert and substantive. It will be no contest. And adding to Obama's natural advantages, McCain has just enough integrity to try to match up with Obama on issues. In the debate on substance, Obama's overwhelming intellectual superiority and mental alertness will become obvious.
There will be the believers who have jumped aboard the Obama campaign and will continue to multiply, but there also is going to be another type of vote that is going to swing heavily to Obama: the default vote. Voters are going to default to Obama because it will become obvious that McCain simply is not up to the task of being president.
This is going to be the first not-close presidential election since 1988.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008