Panic sets in for Obama, Democrats
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Barack Obama knows it. The election he had in the bag is slipping away.
The selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as John McCain’s running mate has so thrown him off stride, as it has most other Democrats, that all the momentum he had has vanished. He’s getting panicky advice from everywhere. He intends to launch more and sharper attacks, abandoning any pretense of a new and different, more civil campaign.
Democrats know something, and desperation is setting in. They have a novice campaigner who wanders off message. With every advantage in the primaries, Obama couldn’t win the big states — New York, New Jersey, Ohio and Pennsylvania — against Hillary Clinton, even when he got to define the rules for running against him. She could never risk alienating the base she’ll need in 2012; John McCain and Sarah Palin have no such constraints — hence the panic.
For a “change” candidate, Obama appears to be a man locked in time, unable to move past criticism, unable to move from the grip of the Democratic left, unable to adapt to the changed reality that the campaign is not the referendum on the war in Iraq or on the administration of George W. Bush that he’d envisioned.
He’s begun to sound dated. Last week, for example, he devoted valuable campaign days — less than two months remain — into explaining a silly “lipstick on a pig” line. The McCain campaign had reacted, accusing him of making the reference to Palin. “I don’t care what they say about me,” Obama responded. “But I love this country too much to let them take over another election with lies and phony outrage and ‘Swiftboat politics.’ Enough is enough,” he said. (The Swiftboat reference is from the 2004 campaign of John Kerry).
The Democratic left is still seething from the Kerry campaign’s loss and is determined to see Bush expelled from the White House in disgrace — the reason it is locked in to making this a referendum on the administration now ending.
It barely worked when the maverick McCain, no darling of the Bushites, got the nomination. With Palin, the Washington outsider, the “third term” argument is plainly absurd. But Obama can’t let go, just as the lefties can’t let go of the Swiftboat Veterans for Truth defeat of Kerry. He can’t move on.
Obama has the habit, too, of reminding voters of their doubts about him, as he did in reminding a Detroit audience that he’s been accused of being less interested in protecting you from terrorists than reading them their rights. And, when he professes love of country as his basis for refusing to allow the McCain campaign to attack his words, he raises questions about why he finds the affirmation of love necessary.
Obama will lose because with less than two months remaining voters won’t be able to get comfortable with him. He can’t stay on message and he can’t avoid sending signals that interfere with the message when he does.
McCain, on the other hand, has been superb going back at least to Obama’s European tour. Mainstream America is comfortable with him and, with Palin’s selection, conservatives who had their doubts are onboard. The GOP is energized and suddenly an unwinnable election is reversed.
Obama got this far by winning small states and Southern states he has no chance of carrying in November. In Georgia, for example, the latest Insider Advantage poll has McCain pulling 56 percent of the vote to 38 percent for Obama, numbers that are not likely to change more than 4 percentage points in November. The undecideds and those who intend to vote for third-party campaigns are at 6 percent.
In this election, voters will decide early. Obama’s been in a yearlong campaign; McCain’s familiar. The two are sufficiently exposed and known for voters to make a decision now.
It’s not over. But it’s getting there — and Obama knows it.