Washington Babylon — April 21, 2008, 9:27 am

Ten Issues That Will Decide the McCain-Obama Election

There’s no reason that the Democratic nominee for president shouldn’t
win the November election. “[John] McCain is a candidate of pronounced
and glaring weaknesses,” New York magazine recently
noted
:

A candidate whose capacity to raise enough money to beat back the tidal wave of Democratic moola is seriously in doubt. A candidate unwilling or unable to animate the G.O.P. base… A candidate one senior moment–or one balky teleprompter–away from being transformed from a grizzled warrior into Grandpa Simpson. A candidate, that is, who poses an existential question for Democrats: If you can’t beat a guy like this in a year like this, with a vastly unpopular Republican war still ongoing and a Republican recession looming, what precisely is the point of you?

Yet polls show McCain is competitive and there is every indication
that the presidential race will be close, whether he is running
against Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. At this point, no matter what
happens in Pennsylvania on Tuesday, the likelihood is that Obama will
win the Democratic nomination
.
(Although I increasingly believe that Clinton’s toughness and street
smarts make her the stronger candidate against McCain, and there are
more members of McCain’s camp who believe that than you might suspect.
McCain could turn out to be Bob Dole, but it’s also true that Obama
might turn out to be Michael Dukakis. Playing fair in politics is for
losers.)

I recently asked Jordan Lieberman, publisher of Politics
magazine
(formerly Campaign &
Elections
), for a list of ten factors that will determine the outcome
of an Obama-McCain race. He and I discussed his list of ten of items over the phone, and below I’ve added a small amount of commentary to his thoughts.

If Hillary turns things around, I’ll do a similar item on the basis of
a McCain-Clinton match up in November.

  1. Starting with the obvious–Iraq. As McCain himself recently
    said
    ,
    before quickly backing off, if Americans believe that U.S. policy in
    Iraq is failing, “then I lose.”

  2. The economy. A severe downturn before November, while not as fatal
    to McCain’s chances as would be a return to chaos in Iraq, will badly
    damage his candidacy, as voters will generally see it as a Bush/G.O.P.
    recession.

  3. The youth vote. Younger voters traditionally vote at lower levels
    than any other group. Obama has generated a lot of enthusiasm among
    this sector, but will they actually come out in November?

  4. Barack Hussein bin Laden, or, Does negative campaigning still
    work?
    McCain will be careful not to directly associate himself with
    political dirty tricks, but there’ll be plenty of “independent” G.O.P.
    groups working to portray Obama as an American-hating radical Muslim
    (and as ABC News recently showed, the media will lend a helping hand).
    But there have been signs that the effectiveness of negative
    campaigning is waning, especially against Obama.

  5. How will Obama do with white male voters? (More specifically, how
    will Obama do with white male voters in the roughly ten states that
    are actually up for grabs, like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Colorado?) So
    far, Obama has won significant support from these voters–but up until
    now, he’s winning it when the other option is Hillary Clinton. Will he
    win reasonable support from white men when they have as an option John
    McCain?

  6. The Hispanic vote. It had been trending Republican up until 2005,
    when a new and intense bout of nativism erupted in the G.O.P. But
    McCain is the one Republican who could win a decent share of the
    Hispanic vote, which will be important in some key Western states and
    Florida. Complicating matters for Obama is that, so far, Hillary
    Clinton has been beating him handily with these voters.

  7. The vice presidential nominee. Obama will probably be looking for
    a running mate who will provide foreign policy gravitas and “balance”
    to the Democratic ticket. Things are far trickier for McCain as he has
    no natural choice for VP. “McCain has problems with conservatives, on
    the economy, with his age and on other issues,” says Lieberman. “No
    matter who he picks, someone is going to be mad. Give me six names and
    I can list problems with all of them.”

  8. What happens to Hillary Clinton voters? Many will vote for Obama,
    of course, but how many will vote for McCain, and how many will stay
    home, are very much open questions. Furthermore, will Hillary’s key
    supporters actively back Obama or merely vote for him without
    enthusiasm? Hillary’s supporters will be taking their cues from her.
    How Obama treats her and her candidacy between now and the convention
    will play an important role here.

  9. Simmering Legal Dispute I. Will McCain’s campaign be allowed to
    opt out of the public election funds
    program?

  10. Simmering Legal Dispute II. This one has attracted less attention,
    but Democratic fixer Harold Ickes has helped form
    Catalist
    ,
    “a for-profit databank that has sold its voter files to the Obama and
    the Clinton presidential campaigns for their get-out-the-vote
    efforts.” Catalist, according to a New York Times story:

allows wealthy Democratic donors to help progressive organizations and candidates by investing in the company…But some campaign finance watchdogs say they wonder whether Catalist was established not so much to make money but to find a creative way to allow big-money liberal donors to influence the election without disclosing the degree of their involvement or being subjected to other rules that would govern spending by an explicitly political organization.

Don’t be surprised if the G.O.P. or a G.O.P.-affiliated group files a
legal challenge to Catalist. A ruling against Catalist could hurt the
Democratic nominee.

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More from Ken Silverstein:

From the November 2013 issue

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