Saturday, September 27, 2008

Palin's Got Next...Maybe

But there's trouble beyond the usual lower the expectations game. Her interview with Katie Couric, which finished last night but which was excerpted for days, has apparently inspired a new round of derision.

Yesterday I referenced the stunning dismissal by a conservative woman columnist. Also yesterday, withering evaluations from CNN's Jack Cafferty, who said that if Palin being a heartbeat from the presidency "doesn't scare the hell out of you, it should." Today, Palin's candidacy is dissed twice more.

In the New York Times. The "Domestic Disturbances" columnist Judith Warner, concludes: "Frankly, I’ve come to think, post-Kissinger, post-Katie-Couric, that Palin’s nomination isn’t just an insult to the women (and men) of America. It’s an act of cruelty toward her as well."

In Newsweek, world affairs columnist Fareed Zakaria begins: "Will someone please put Sarah Palin out of her agony? Is it too much to ask that she come to realize that she wants, in that wonderful phrase in American politics, "to spend more time with her family"? He concludes: "Can we now admit the obvious? Sarah Palin is utterly unqualified to be vice president...In these times, for John McCain to have chosen this person to be his running mate is fundamentally irresponsible. McCain says that he always puts country first. In this important case, it is simply not true."

Others set the pattern a bit earlier: On Thursday Carl Bernstein wrote in Huffpost:it is time to confront an awkward but profound question: whether in picking Sarah Palin as his running mate, John McCain has committed -- by his own professed standards of duty and honor -- a singularly unpatriotic act.

On Friday, another columnist in the NY Times, Bob Herbert wrote: "But Ms. Palin has given no indication yet that she is capable of handling the monumental responsibilities of the presidency if she were called upon to do so.
In fact, the opposite is the case.... The press has an obligation to hammer away at Ms. Palin’s qualifications. If it turns out that she has just had a few bad interviews because she was nervous or whatever, additional scrutiny will serve her well. If, on the other hand, it becomes clear that her performance, so far, is an accurate reflection of her qualifications, it would behoove John McCain and the Republican Party to put the country first — as Mr. McCain loves to say — and find a replacement for Ms. Palin on the ticket."

There's another tidbit making the rounds today, from TV talk show host Ed Shultz: Capitol Hill sources are telling me that senior McCain people are more than concerned about Palin. The campaign has held a mock debate and a mock press conference; both are being described as “disastrous.” One senior McCain aide was quoted as saying, “What are we going to do?” The McCain people want to move this first debate to some later, undetermined date, possibly never. People on the inside are saying the Alaska Governor is “clueless.”

Whether or not this is true (and the Obama campaign seems serious about taking Palin's debating skills seriously), Palin was conspicuous by her absense from the post-debate spin last night, whereas Joe Biden was everywhere. Palin reportedly watched the debate in a Philadelphia bar--with 300 chanting Obama supporters gathered outside.

Here's my current take: I don't think McCain will dump Palin before the debate, although with McCain you never know. He surely knows he needs something dramatic to change the momentum because Obama very likely got a big boost of it last night, and the daily tracking polls were already trending his way. He might make the big gamble with his base and dump her for Joe Leiberman. But I doubt it.

The more likely (if not most likely) scenario is that the McCain campaign will simply cancel the v.p. debate, saying that the media is so mean that Palin won't get a fair hearing.

Assuming the debate does happen however, I've changed my mind about something else. I was of the school that said the expectations for Palin are so low, she almost certainly will come out of her debate looking okay, if not declared the winner. I don't think that anymore. If Joe Biden simply talks the Obama-Biden line about the future, if he refers to her seldom but only as Governor Palin, and simply links her "views" to continuation of Bush policies, he'll be the clear winner.

The people say Obama won. Why?
This brilliant Al Rodgers image sums up the
general reaction to last night's debate. While
pundits scored it close and some said McCain
won, the overwhelming evidence based on polls
and focus groups is that Obama pulled a JFK.
For example, this.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Barack Friday for McCain-Palin

Once again, the day did not start well for McCain-Palin. Not when the quote of the day was this:

"If BS were currency, Palin could bail out Wall Street herself."

And it was written by a conservative Republican woman columnist, who called Palin so obviously unqualified that she should step down for the good of the country.

Not when McCain's rush to Washington to fix the economic crisis resulted in stories like this one about Thursday from the AP: By midnight, it was hard to tell who had suffered a worse evening, Bush or McCain. McCain, eager to shore up his image as a leader who rises above partisanship, was undercut by a fierce political squabble within his own party's ranks.

Friday, with the process to find a solution struggling to get back on track but with no deal yet, McCain reversed himself on not participating in the first debate until there was one, and suddenly flew down to Ole Miss, accompanied by what a pool reporter called "general confusion," seeming to confirm the view of an ex-advisor to McCain: "It just proves his campaign is governed by tactics and not ideology," said Republican consultant Craig Shirley, who advised McCain earlier in this cycle. "In the end, he blinked and Obama did not. The 'steady hand in a storm' argument looks now to more favor Obama, not McCain." Shirley added, "My guess is that plasma units are rushing to the McCain campaign as we speak to replace the blood flowing there from the fights among the staff." A further confirmation of staff chaos was the appearance of a web ad declaring McCain the clear winner of the debate--hours before the debate started.

Then the debate. While the debate itself got good reviews, the consensus from pundits and especially from the first polls and focus groups was that Obama won it. Particularly interesting, the undecideds in a CBS poll (40% said Obama won, 22% McCain, 38% a draw) were remarkably in tune with a focus group of undecideds in St. Louis, run by Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg ( 38% Obama, 27% McCain, 36% a draw.)

But this focus group also measured favorability before and after the debate. McCain's went up by 9 points, but Obama's went up by 39 points, to give him a 69%-62 total edge. This suggests that Obama may have gotten the "Reagan Effect" (I just made that up) that's part of the mythology of the 1980 election: Carter was slightly ahead until the debate and Reagan won by a landslide. The myth is that people were ready for change but unsure about Reagan, and the debate gave them enough confidence in him that they voted for change.

In another focus group (Media Curves), the Dems and GOPers went overwhelmingly for their candidate but the Independents gave the debate to Obama by 61-39, and they also gave him the win on every individual segment of the debate. So while Tweety and Pat Buchanan bloviated on their boxing metaphors, it seems that for the indies, Obama won every round.

Another important data point: in the CNN poll, Obama won among voters 50 and older. This is not only very important (because this is supposedly McCain country) but because this is a generational change, which is how the NYTimes is characterizing the difference in this debate. Put these two constituencies together--older voters and Independents-- and you have the makings of a sharp ascent to a landslide.

(The MSNBC web poll shows predictable results--Obama by like 80%-- but the comments are entertaining.) But the internals of the CNN poll are enough to make me weep with joy: Obama won on intelligence, likeability, sincerity, expressing himself more clearly, all by double digits. Obama won on being a strong leader by 4 points--and on being more in touch with the needs and problems of people like you--by 30 points! McCain won on spending more time attacking his opponent. McCain also won on terrorism by just 4 points, but Obama won on Iraq, the economy, the current financial crisis.

Nate Silver at has an interesting perspective on why these first polls show Obama winning, when some pundits and other observers thought it was more of a toss-up. He adds a note about the internals of the CBS poll, which showed that on their "your needs and problems" Obama went from a plus 18 before the debate to a plus 56 after, and on "prepared to be president" he went from -9 to plus 21. So did Obama just seal the deal? Stay tuned.

There was much talk about McCain's demeanor, which was not as surly, sullen, disengaged and strange as he is capable of. But a lot of talk about his defensive posture, and particularly his refusal to look Barack Obama in the eye, or even look at him at all, which was especially glaring in the parts of the debate when they were supposed to engage each other.

A lot of reasons were suggested. I've got two more I haven't heard anyone say. The first is a little technical--McCain can get this weird, animal caught in a trap look in his eyes when he's confronted (he did it on The View, for example), and he may have been told to avoid that at all costs, by not looking at Obama at all.

But the primary one which is implied in some of the comments people made but not yet said--yet I'm guessing it is the paramount one among African American viewers--is that McCain is not comfortable with people of color. He has shown on every occasion he is on stage even briefly with Obama that he does not want Obama--a guy who likes to touch people, long handshakes, pat on the back, a brief hug--to touch him or to even look at him.

So my conclusion: for me, Obama showed what I know him to be: intelligent, knowledgeable, compassionate, presidential. Within the debate's time constraints, he defended himself very well, and drew distinctions with McCain very well. I could have said as much about John Kerry four years ago, and probably did. Kerry demolished the sitting president, GW Bush in their first debate. He won all three debates. But he either lost the election, or didn't win it by the kind of margin that it couldn't be stolen.

But this time, if the Reagan Effect is in play, this could be different. Friday also saw polls showing Obama going ahead in Virginia and New Hampshire, widening his lead in Michigan and maintaining it in PA, while surging in at least one of the daily tracking polls. This debate is not going to slow that momentum. The question is, by the time polls are taken that account for debate reaction, whether that momentum increases. A lot.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


Update: Okay so this didn't happen. But if anyone from Hollywood is reading, I'm available to write this up as a screenplay, maybe Wag the Dog II.

We're all conspiracy theorists now. And here's mine: House Republicans continue to gum up the works tomorrow, but John McCain meets with them behind closed doors. Meanwhile the markets are going crazy. Business channels are predicting apocalypse if a deal isn't struck today.

The meetings drag on into the evening. The networks cover the closed doors, panels back in the studio analyze what they don't know. Then finally the door opens. McCain steps out.

He says negotiations are at a critical juncture, he has to stay and continue trying to solve this crisis, so he won't be flying down to Mississippi for the debate. Even if it means he loses the election, it's country first.

Obama finds himself alone on stage at the debate, except for Jim Lerher, who improvises a kind of moderated town hall meeting.

But just five minutes into it, the networks break in: there's word that McCain is about to come out of the meeting and announce something. For awhile it's split screen: Obama talking, the closed door in Washington, but the voice of an excited reporter.

Then the door opens, John McCain emerges with the news that he has convinced the House Republicans to support a more modest version of the plan created by the Democratic and Republican negotiators based on the Paulsen initiative. He believes a bill will result that everyone can support. The crisis is over.

Now back to Ole Miss, where Jim Lerher asks Barack Obama for his reaction to the news.

That's my conspiracy theory, and like all conspiracy theory, it has facts to back it up. The chief one is this: before the meeting McCain attended at the White House Thursday--the one that was supposed to finalize the deal that most parties had agreed to, but was sent into chaos by House Republicans who proposed a radiclaly different plan which had already been discredited, and McCain said nothing about it for the entire meeting--before that, McCain had met with House Republicans.

Later McCain announced that he was confident he could bring House Republicans around to supporting a deal. I'm sure he is confident. The fix is in. All they'll be doing behind closed doors tomorrow is playing blackjack.

It's a perfect set-up. Nobody knows why McCain suspended his campaign and wanted to cancel the debate to come to Washington, and then he was silent at the big meeting, and nobody knows where he stands. The House GOPers and their intransigence will almost certainly send the stock market tumbling dramatically on Friday. The stakes get raised.

The media was set up by talk that House GOPers hate McCain. The Obama campaign was set up by McCain saying he wouldn't go to the debate. If Obama agreed to cancel it, it would have looked like he was taking McCain's lead. When he refused to cancel it, this scenario became possible.

Of course I'm hoping this is overly imaginative, a cautionary tale. I mostly hope that somebody in the Obama campaign also has an overactive imagination, and they are prepared for this. It's the worst outcome I can think of, short of the beginning of Great Depression II.

Talk about twists and turns. John McCain announced he was suspending his campaign on Thursday, and asked that Friday's debate be postponed, while he went to Washington to work on the bail-out bill. As Barney Frank says, this is the longest Hail Mary pass in the history of football, or Marys.

I've gone through the day and the prospects for the bail-out bill at Dreaming Up Daily. Here I'll stick mostly to the politics. Several progressive bloggers at first thought McCain's move was pretty shrewd--it seized the story, deflected from the coverage of bad poll numbers and his campaign manager's ties to Freddie Mac, and made him look like a bipartisan leader on the economic crisis. It was also a gamble to get Obama to follow him to DC and cancel the debate.

By day's end, none of it seemed to work. Neither Obama nor the debate commission agreed to cancel the debate. (Obama got in a good dig about presidents needing to be able to deal with more than one thing at a time.) Although Bush provided cover for McCain by giving him something to do in Washington (since he's not on the relevant committees, he had no real meetings to go to), he also mitigated any problem for Obama by inviting him as well, so by the time this news catches up to people, Obama will also be in the photo op in Washington.

A Survey USA flash poll strongly suggests McCain's gambit didn't work with the public--only 10% agreed that the debate should be cancelled. And at least one of those bloggers recanted. Now McCain really has a problem. If the deal isn't done by Friday, what does he do? Does he become the first candidate in history to duck a debate? Or does he murmur something about satisfactory progress and go? Incidentally, unprepared.

Also, many respondents in that poll thought the debate and the rest of the campaign should be focused on the economy. And indeed the Obama campaign said that the debate commission told them that there will be questions on the economic crisis at the debate--and they told them this several days ago.

Meanwhile, the poll numbers continue to look good for Obama, although the national ones are all over the place. Post/ABC has Obama up 10 points among registered, NBC up just 2 points, and Fox up 6 points. But there is a pattern, and it is being reflected in the state polls. As Mike Allen in Politico writes, "This is the first time that one of the candidates has dominated state polls in the most closely contested battlegrounds."

Sarah Palin's interview with Katie Couric also seemed to be a failure, with at least one major gaffe, but even this is not quite drowning out the continuing bad news for her from Alaska.

But the McCain campaign keeps trying to shake things up, so there's no telling what Thursday and Friday are going to be like. There are some signs that this erratic behavior is itself hurting McCain-Palin, as well it should.

What continues to amaze me is how thoroughly they are alienating the media--no longer just the eastern print media they like to run against, but everybody. When McCain threatened to kill the debate, that's a big revenue loss for television as well as a blow to democracy. McCain even alienated David Letterman, by cancelling his appearance at the last minute to go back to Washington--and then he was not only still in New York, but he was recording an interview with Katie Couric at the same time Letterman was taping his show: which wasn't lost on Letterman, who castigated him on the air.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


That clap of thunder you just heard is the new Washington Post/ABC poll that shows Barack Obama leading John McCain 52% to 43% among likely voters. That's nine points. And Obama is above 50%, which this late in the race is magic. Among registered voters in the poll, Obama leads by 10 points, 52-42%.

The last Post/ABC poll was Sept. 9, when Obama was ahead 47-46%.

There is nothing but good news in this poll. Though it measures who "leans" one way or another, the percentage of people who are sure who they are voting for has increased to 83% from 79% last time. On the internals, Ambinder isolates these: Voters, by 14 points more than McCain, trust Obama to handle the economy; his messaging that McCain is "out of touch" is bearing results, as 57% of Americans think that Obama better understands the complexities of the system. And when asked an open ended question about who'd best handle a crisis of any sort, half pick Obama, up significantly.

More good news for Obama: he's gaining back white women who defected to the McCain ticket; the Democrats have a 25 point enthusiasm advantage over Republicans, and concerns about McCain's age are rising. And here's an interesting nugget: Sarah Palin's biggest favorability rating drop has taken place among white Catholics."

This poll was taken Sept. 19-22, which means it began before the Monday Meltdown but includes that day. It has a margin of error of 3 points.

This caps a day in which state polls show Obama with slim to pretty good leads in battleground states, with one poll showing him slightly ahead in Florida and another tied in Ohio.

Also a new Pew poll confirms one element of the Post poll: more voters trust Obama to handle the financial crisis (47-35), and interestingly, independents alone favor Obama 44-30%. This is even more significant because this poll found a high percentage following these events. (This poll was also conducted Sept. 19-22.) Yet another poll agrees, from LA Times/Bloomberg, in which voters picked Obama to handle the financial crisis, 48% to 35%.

Apart from suggesting a trend, this poll has actual importance right now, because this is when people can start to vote. Early voting began Monday in the critical states of PA, Michigan, Virginia and North Carolina, as well as 7 other states. By October 5, that rises to 23 states allowing some form of early voting.
Obama is already likely to be getting a head start, because of the GOTV effort and the enthusiasm level, but these poll numbers could mean additional votes, even before November.

McCain is off balance, and efforts to regain it may be hampered by continuing bad news, both for him and for his VP candidate Palin. The New York Times earlier this week reported on his campaign manager's lobbying ties to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac--hefty monthly payments simply for access to McCain--which ended in 2005. But now both the Times and Newsweek are reporting that this guy, Rick Davis, went back to Freddie Mac and asked to continue the relationship, and his firm has been collecting $15,000 a month (though nobody there did any work for it), right up until last month. Here's how the Times story starts:

One of the giant mortgage companies at the heart of the credit crisis paid $15,000 a month from the end of 2005 through last month to a firm owned by Senator John McCain’s campaign manager, according to two people with direct knowledge of the arrangement. The disclosure undercuts a statement by Mr. McCain on Sunday night that the campaign manager, Rick Davis, had had no involvement with the company for the last several years."

This is not going to help McCain shake off the impression that he's the candidate most tied to the status quo in Washington, especially since this story involves an issue that is bound to be in the news for at least the rest of this week and probably much longer.

There's even a further downside to this crisis for McCain. Bush administration figures keep getting trotted out, including the 19% president and the vice-president who is so reviled that he was rejected by his own party's congressional delegation today. McCain, whose convention hid from the Republican party brand, is now going to be associated with the party and administration that voters would like to believe is already gone. This visibility reminds them it isn't, quite yet.

But for all this good news, there's opportunity for more twists and turns before this is over... And there's the fighting in the trenches. Some of it is pretty disturbing, as in Robert Kennedy's contention that hundreds of thousands of voters--mostly Democrats--are being disenfranchised. There are also the scurrilous ads, push polls and direct marketing pieces that are locally targeted.

But the Obama team is also in the trenches, looking for those seemingly small advantages, like the ad in Michigan that targets McCain for owning 3 foreign made vehicles (among his 13.) TIME's Amy Sullivan explains why this is potentially potent.

Then there are the rarely mentioned constituencies, like American Indians (the tribal endorsements in New Mexico could make the difference for Obama), or animal lovers. We hear a lot about hunters, but the Humane Society is backed by some 10 million members. And that organization has endorsed a presidential candidate for the first time in its history: Barack Obama.

As the TPM story suggests, this is not nothing: for many people, animals are a very emotional issue, and apart from Obama's good record, the reputation of moose-hunting, wolf-shooting and polar bear endangering VP candidate Palin may be very motivating.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Powell: Just Short of an Endorsement?

This is video of the moment I described in the post
below, in which Powell criticizes McCain's rash
statements on Georgia (without mentioning McCain
by name.)
McCain Unfit?

After a week of McCain the liar--which in a way continued today--we have evaluations of McCain, coming apart under pressure and even unfit for the presidency, from (among others) ABC, Bloomberg and most surprising perhaps, George Will in the Washington Post.

Sometimes these hot air purveyors say things on TV that they later soften or even contradict, but in this column Will actually amplified his remarks from ABC yesterday (in the video below.) Will is from the William F. Buckley school of conservatism, and already offended by McCain's infliction of Sarah Palin on the GOPer ticket. Now he's being just about definitive.

Under the headline, McCain Loses His Head, he begins: "Under the pressure of the financial crisis, one presidential candidate is behaving like a flustered rookie playing in a league too high. It is not Barack Obama." He concludes: "It is arguable that, because of his inexperience, Obama is not ready for the presidency. It is arguable that McCain, because of his boiling moralism and bottomless reservoir of certitudes, is not suited to the presidency. Unreadiness can be corrected, although perhaps at great cost, by experience. Can a dismaying temperament be fixed?"

This impression makes Friday's debate absolutely crucial for McCain. If he can't stop this then, he's finished. The debate was being discussed a lot today, and it will be for the rest of the week. While some debates have been important, they usually don't move poll numbers much. And let's recall that John Kerry destroyed GW in the first debate last time, and won all three, although the third was a fairly tired effort. Still...Obama believes the debates will seal the deal.

Although foreign policy is the announced topic, commentators today didn't believe that the economic crisis would go unmentioned past the first minute or so. If the moderator doesn't bring it up, one of the candidates will. Now that McCain has the rep of being erratic, any tendency that way will be amplified. Conversely, if he just appears calm and reasonable, he could change the talk that's building.

Obama has gotten sharper on the stump last week, and if he can stay sharp--concise, direct, relating policy to people, and linking McCain with Bush policies--then he could seal the deal. The best essay I've seen on what he should do in the debate is this one.

Now another topic, synthesizing two items concerning Colin Powell today. Tweety was talking about the role of race, and one of his (black) companions mentioned that the most admired black politician among whites who have a hard time voting for an African American is Colin Powell. Presumably as a military leader he transcends the genre of black politicians, like athletes. They'd vote for Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods, too. I also read the salon story about Pennsylvania that indicates undecided "hard working" whites there who do have this problem are being pulled towards Obama anyway because of the economy. So...

Colin Powell has said that he may endorse someone for president. He's expressed admiration for Obama and wonder at the possibility of a black man winning the presidency. But he's a GOPer and friends with McCain. On the other hand, I can see him being thrilled with Sarah Palin. Now there's this little bit of new evidence on a foreign policy matter: in a CNN forum with a number of ex-secretaries of state etc., Powell spoke out pretty firmly against McCain's position on Georgia and Russia, without mentioning his name, indicating that his view was too simplistic, perhaps dangerously so. (There's a clip somewhere, but I've lost it.)

So I'm waiting for the moment--and it could be an important one--when Colin Powell stands with Barack Obama to announce his endorsement.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

McCain Isn't Ready

The panel on ABC's This Week

Obama goes into Debate Camp on Tuesday, which is a shame in a way because he's hitting his stride on the stump. He has responded to the ongoing economic crisis--and apparently the reflexive use of that word "crisis" is now way too tame by several orders of magnitude--by showing the country exactly the kind of leader he can be: cool-heated, but passionate; thinking it through, demanding that the plan makes sense; understanding the urgency, but deliberate about coming to a plan that could make things worse if it isn't done right.

On the stump his themes are coalescing: now he's uniting his "change Washington" and "working across party lines to get things done", and "change from the bottom up" new politics, with throwing out the Republicans and their destructive policies and philosophies. And while the economic crisis provides him the case in point, he's demonstrating that this is what he meant--that all these themes and all his arguments apply.

And if the enthusiasm ever left, it is certainly back on the campaign trail: Obama is getting huge, enthusiastic crowds, beyond what local planners were prepared for: in Jacksonville, FLA for example, and today in Charlotte, NC. And think for a moment about those two places: these crowds have to worry the McCain campaign, and they speak to either the confidence or the folly of the Obama campaign. Some observers say NC is out of reach for Obama, and Florida was trending that way. Now at the very least the Obama campaign is forcing McCain to devote resources to defending them, and it seems to me they believe they have a real shot at winning them. Especially Florida.

This is not a conservative game plan. With things as tight as they seem to be in some polls in Michigan, PA and Wisconsin, prudence might suggest spending all your time there. But what may be happening is an effort to reinforce the ground game, the ongoing registration drives. Once registration is closed in all these states, maybe they focus for awhile on must-win states. (Obama goes to Green Bay tomorrow anyway.) I'm surprised however that they aren't in Virginia today, where voting has begun. But I expect they know what they're doing.

Meanwhile McCain got raked over the coals on ABC's This Week, with super-conservative George Will concluding, "John McCain showed his personality this week, and made some of us fearful."

I've been posting on the economic crisis itself over at Dreaming Up Daily. But there does seem to be a lot of push-back on the Paulson plan today. Some of it is coming from people who notice who is getting bailed out and who isn't, like this from comments at HuffPost: Dear Mr. Paulson:I know you are busy bailing out financial institutions but if you have a minute I was wondering if you could loan me $3000.00 I haven't been able to afford health insurance for years and would love to get a mammogram. Best regards.

Maybe we'll avoid another big step towards oligarchical dictatorship via the Shock Doctrine this time, but it's going to happen pretty fast. Meanwhile, anything to keep my mind off that dismal Steelers game.