Owning The Tax Issue

No political campaign is perfect.  They are ran by people, and thus are prone to mistakes.  Even the very best political campaigns will goof every once in a while.

But if there was ever a political campaign that has earned the right to write a text book primer on how to run a campaign, I think Obama’s is that campaign.

While Team Obama has undoubtedly had its share of missteps, they have done an awful lot of things right, so much so that we have seen their opponents flustered in frustration trying to figure out first how the rookie jumped ahead of them, and then how on earth to make a come back.

In a First Read post that deals mostly with polls (I’ll talk about the polling trends a little bit later today), there was one section that I felt was very important to bring up when we talk about the things that the Obama campaign has done right:

*** What happens when the GOP no longer owns the tax issue? As the McCain camp has spent the past week hammering Obama on the issues of taxes — and now has a new TV ad on the subject — it’s also striking to find in the NBC/WSJ poll that Obama has a 14-point lead over McCain here (48%-34%). Our guess here is that the Obama campaign’s tough health-care attack on McCain (“McCain would tax your benefits for the first time ever, meaning higher income taxes for millions,” goes one widely aired Obama ad) has undermined the GOP’s traditional tax-and-spend attack on Democratic candidates. Here are some other interesting findings in the poll: Obama has a 30-point lead over McCain on which candidate better offers hope and optimism (53%-23%); a 20-point edge on temperament (50%-30%); and a 20-point lead in improving America’s standing in the world (51%-31%). By the way, the percentages of those thinking the country is on the right track (12%), approving Congress’ job (12%), and approving Bush’s job (27%) have all either reached or tied new lows in our NBC/WSJ poll — which has now occurred so many times now that it’s really not news anymore.

The significance of this graph can’t be overstated.  A year or two out, it was looking like the Iraq War might be the leading issue of the election.  Normally, given that this is under foreign policy, this would seem to be an advantage to Republicans, but given public unrest over the occupation of Iraq, the issue moved into jump ball territory with Democrats in a good position to capitalize politically.

But just as the primaries were coming to a close, it was becoming clear that the economy would become the prime focus of the election (even before the Wall Street crisis which solidified the role of the economy in the election).  This would seem to be advantage Democrats, but Republicans had a card to play that has worked for them time and time again.


Even though American voters generally trust Democrats more when it comes to the economy, Republicans in the past couple of decades have perfected the art of tax-based politics.  Whatever advantages Democrats might have on the economy in general, Republicans could always make a serious play against Democrats by at least narrowing the debate down to taxes specifically which is their territory.

At least until this election.

Among the many things that Obama has done right, one of the principle things that has helped him and continues to help him is the fact that he forcefully charged on the issue of taxes.  He has remained uniquely on message when it comes to taxes, and he has made sure that there will be very few people who walk into the voting booth on November 4th that don’t know Obama intends to give tax cuts to 95% of Americans.

He has hit this theme time and time again, and in doing so, he has taken the tax arrow out of the Republican party’s quiver.  What this means is that even if McCain were to spend the next two weeks trying to focus on taxes, doing so will be an uphill battle.

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