Time To Play The Game

Good morning!  It’s August 25th so I guess that means it’s the first day of the Democratic National Convention.

Now, the last month or so of the presidential campaign has been somewhat interesting, and for those hoping to see Senator Barack Obama inaugurated as our next President of the United States, a little worrying to say the least.  Exempting the past four or five days, recent weeks and indeed months have shown Obama consistently leading in the polls, performing well in a trip overseas, but at the same time the overriding narrative has essentially been, “Everything is good for McCain.”

It doesn’t stop there either, oh gosh no.  More disconcerting is the fact that the McCain campaign has been riffing on Obama almost non-stop and the Obama campaign has been detrimentally silent for a lot of it.  As anyone who has watched the Democratic primaries should be able to attest to, this is incredibly uncharacteristic of the campaign that beat the Clinton team.

Lauded for rapid response and political jiu jitsu during the primaries, the Obama campaign has up until recently looked like only a shadow of its former self, almost as though it was being transformed into the Kerry campaign right in front of your eyes leading to some rather loud grumblings among at the very least the left side of the blogosphere.

I have a suspicion that this was all on purpose, though, and recent events seem to indicate that my suspicion is dead on.

I think this has all been on purpose.  While it’s important to fight back and fight back hard against the Republican smear machine, I think the Obama camp has been wise in maintaining a low profile in the past month or two (in regards to confronting McCain specifically).  I believe that the Obama campaign intentionally held back, waiting until the right time to kick things into gear.

This is of course the only rational conclusion that one can come to when you look at the disparity between the way he waged his primary campaign, and the way he governed the opening stages of the general election.  You don’t just turn into an entirely different political entity over night.

Indeed, I suspect that what we have seen is perhaps not exactly according to design, but definitely within acceptable parameters with some possibly beneficial pay offs.  And the key to all of this is the voters themselves.

We have to understand what’s going on in America right now.  Yes, high information voters are lapping every little bit of the campaign up, licking the tiniest morsels from their lips and making grunting noises for more.  But there’s an interesting thing to be said of the group of people that made up the bulk of the audience up until this point; most of them are entrenched already.  Oh sure, there’s plenty of voters out there still up for grabs, but I highly doubt that they are in the majority and if they were avid followers of the campaign up until this point, they are going to continue to be avid followers right up to November leaving plenty of time and room to have their minds changed.

In other words, the low information voters–likely the vast majority of voters in general–aren’t even really paying attention yet… especially with the Olympics and everything (yeah, Saddleback…  oh McCain did *so well*.  Too bad I was joining just about the rest of America in watching Michaelf Phelps win his history making eighth gold medal in a single Olympics).

Thus when we look at who’s watching, and what the campaigns are doing, it starts to make a lot of sense.  While John McCain was using valuable resources attempting to define Obama in an irrevocably bad light, the core of maleable voters were watching gymnastics (Hey…  I like gymnastics so back off!) and before that they were doing whatever it is low information voters do when they aren’t paying attention to politics.

To make a long story less long, I think the ultimate effect of the opening stages of the general election have failed in defining Obama, but instead accidentally lowered expectations for him.  On top of that, Obama, who in July alone doubled McCain’s money haul, has been able to conserve some his cash, energy, and resources, while the McCain team is proving to be less conservationist with what it has.

The funny sidebar to this is that there are hints that even the McCain camp may have a grasp on its own miscalculations.  After spending so long trying to tear Obama down, they realized that all they did was lowered expectations just in time for the one arena that is more suited to him than any other; the Democratic National Convention.

Thus, after all this take down, the McCain campaign engaged in RAISING Obama’s expectations, attempting to set themselves up to call Obama in deep trouble if he doesn’t achieve a fifteen point bounce in the wake of the convention.

I’ve long had reason to suspect that the Obama campaign has been biding its time, letting McCain burn resources on an audience that was largely already divided in camps as well as lowering expectations for Obama such that he can easily exceed them.

The past four or five days have been the best indicator that I wasn’t too terribly far off the mark.  I’ve already discussed the brilliance of the housing gaffe that pivoted directly into the announcement of Joe Biden.  But I think it’s important to understand that the mere selection of Joe Biden is itself indicative of the kind of campaign that Obama is going to run.

I’ve mentioned that I would have liked to have seen Tim Kaine on the ticket, but the thing about it is that Tim Kaine just doesn’t have the sharp elbows.  Tim Kaine, like Obama, is a counter-puncher, and if the Obama team is really hankering to take the fight to McCain, Kaine’s not the guy.

Joe, as he made dead clear in his appearance as a part of the ticket on Saturday aptly showed, is that guy.

But the real testing ground, the real crucible from whose ashes we can divine whether Obama is turning into Kerry occurs this week.  The next four days will have an indellible imprint on the tone of the next two months, and not being in on any of the speech writing or back stage planning I’m as in the dark as to how things will go as you are. 

I think that the Obama team knows that now it’s time to play the game.

Here are some of the things to watch for:

-Lessons Learned.  Perhaps the number one thing to pay attention to is how aggressive the tone is.  In 2004 the liberal base was probably as united as it gets (not saying much, yes, I know, but still), and they were ready to march to take down Bush.  But in what will be forever seen as one of the key failures of Kerry’s run for president is the fact that for almost the entire convention it was as if Bush didn’t even exist, ultimately leading to a disappointingly low post convention bump.

The Obama team needs to jump right out in front and deliver a strong message from its very first speakers that it is ready to engage head on with the McCain campaign.  If the lessons have been learned from 2004, we should see plenty of riffing on both McCain and Bush along with many attempts to tie them together, which isn’t hard.

-Keynote.  Outside the realm of the presidential election, Mark Warner’s spot is going to be something to pay attention to.  An early potential presidential candidate, Warner backed off of any presidential aspirations this year, and as I understand it this was at least in part due to the star power he would have had to go up against in the Democratic primary.  Formerly an incredibly popular governor of Virginia, Mark Warner is now running for John Warner’s senate seat which he is vacating at the end of this term.

Warner is way out in front of his Republican opponent, also a former governor and former presidential candidate Jim Gilmore.  It is also thought that Warner may have the White House still in his future.

Warner’s keynote address will be significant in that between him and Tim Kaine, they are the two best hopes that Obama has for carrying Virginia, a very solid prize of 11 EVs in solid Republican territory.

-Can Clinton Save Her Political Career?  It’s interesting.  I have mentioned multiple times beginning back in the final stages of the primary that Clinton was playing Russian Roulette with her political career.  No PUMA wants to hear this, but if Obama loses this election by a margin that can be accounted for by defecting Clinton supporters, Clinton is going to bear a brunt of the burden.

Only recently have I noticed more “serious” political pundits catch on to this idea.

Whether you personally believe that it’s Clinton’s responsibility to bring a bulk of her supporters back into the fold or not is irrelevent.  The party will see it that way, and I’m pretty sure Clinton is on that level of understanding now too.

She has her work cut out for her, a recent SUSA poll shows that fewer than half of her supporters are firm in the Obama camp now.  On the other hand, there are indications that Hillary will do what she needs to do.  A few days ago reports came that she would be engaging a whip operation to quell protesters, and she is expected to release her delegates to Obama sometime between today and Wednesday.

For some of the Clinton supporters turned anti-Obama activists, this has long since ceased being about Hillary, and has pretty much morphed into a hatred of Obama.  They believe what they do is out of support for Clinton, but it is gone beyond that and has transformed into obsession that Clinton herself can’t reverse.  They’re lost.  But for the rest of them, I think Hillary will be successful in turning things around.

-Joltin’ Joe.  Biden’s first oration as the number two man on the ticket did a good job of setting the tone.  Look for him to throw sharper elbows and jabs and kick things up a notch.  Joe is not the world’s most eloquent speaker, but he can really get a crowd going when he turns the heat up, and I would really like to see things up and burning when he takes the stage.

More specifically, I want to see if he responds to the recent McCain ad that has footage of Joe praising McCain.  I really think the McCain campaign was asking to be hit hard for that ad, giving Biden an opportunity to clear state why he may have once thought so highly of the Arizona Senator, but feels differently now.  Now it’s just a matter of if Biden takes the opening the McCain camp left for him.

Read: McCain just put out an ad which says I would be willing to run with him.  And yes, when I said it I meant it.  Ladies and Gentlemen, I have had nothing but respect for my friend John, but I gota tell ya, the man I have seen on the national stage for the past two years… that’s not the John McCain I know.  I don’t know where he went to, but the man we’re running against is a poor excuse for the man I once knew.

Something like that.

-The Man Himself.  I’ve read some interesting things about the potential approaches to the Obama speech.  It’s not supposed to be lofty.  It’s not supposed to be uplifting.  It’s supposed to be introductory, etc.  Indeed, the Obama team has on its own gone through efforts to try and tamp down expectations.

And quite a bit of the analysis that I have read makes sense.  But here’s the cut and dry; until we get to the debates, this will be his biggest stage, and his biggest night.  It will be essentially his introduction to moderate and low information voters.

He’s also moving everything to a football stadium.

Four years ago a speech at the Democratic National Convention turned him into a rock star and placed him firmly on the national stage.  Thursday night I think is going to be the single most important speech of his life, and I think he’s going to strive to meet and exceed that speech four years ago.  This is his wheel house, and it’s important.  The thing about Obama is that when he delivers, it’s not just about him, but you feel good about America again, you feel things like common purpose, and hope that we can once again regain that status of shining city on a hill.

I think Thurdsay night he is going to shoot to exceed his speech of four months ago, to exceed his New Hampshire speech that was turned into a music video, to exceed his race in America speech which had my Republican stepfather calling me up to express how impressed he was.  While I may be out of line raising expectations, I think that if Obama wants to win, this has to be one of the big ones, and not one of the safe ones.

He’s introducing himself to America, and I think he needs to do so with those same qualities that put him where he is now in the first place.


So it should be an interesting week. And if you don’t believe me that the Obama campaign hasn’t started yet, go to the horse’s mouth.

NOTE: yes you will be asked to donate money.  I have no shame in this, and in fact you can expect me to throw in more calls to donate to the Obama campaign between now and election day.

2 Responses to “Time To Play The Game”

  1. I had to chuckle when Obama said “literally.” I wonder if he was giving bustin’ old Joltin’ Joe’s chops with that.

    Didn’t want to put that in the body of the piece.

  2. radical_Moderate says:

    “For some of the Clinton supporters turned anti-Obama activists, this has long since ceased being about Hillary, and has pretty much morphed into a hatred of Obama. They believe what they do is out of support for Clinton, but it is gone beyond that and has transformed into obsession that Clinton herself can’t reverse. They’re lost. But for the rest of them, I think Hillary will be successful in turning things around.”

    I agree, I started feeling that the real Hillary, the canny Politican, and Political Opportunist, had ceased to exist months ago and was replaced by a symbolic vagina. The Obama hatred, and the total misrepresentation of the campaign he ran (not sexist, not playing the race card) by these women is irrational at best, and something akin to insanity at worst.

    I was just watching “Hardball” and he was interviewing some PUMA women, and it was terrifying…the misplaced rage palpable. I will say that the primary went on too damn long and the DNC needs to reorganize the process.

    I am also looking forward to more tough ads highlighting all the times that McCain praised Bush and his assorted lackeys and horrific policies…many of which have back-fired on the Average American; as the people need to be reminded, often and loudly.

    As for Obama’s speech…yes it needs to be a “high flyer” if for nothing else for the possibility that it will, like his 2004 speech did for me, pull in more “true believers.”

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