Cathy Allen is a Democratic political consultant and president of The Connections Group, based in Seattle, Washington. Her firm has worked for hundreds of successful political campaigns around the world, as well as for school districts, natural resource agencies, native tribes, and professional women’s organizations. Allen is a supporter of Hillary Clinton but she’s an admirer of Barack Obama as well. I recently spoke to her by phone about how the Democratic nominee should run against John McCain during the fall election.
1. John McCain came back from the dead in the Republican primaries. How strong of a candidate will he be this November?
He is very vulnerable. He is old news. He looks like someone who should be your grandfather–at a time that you, as a grandchild, think it’s your day. I see it as a generational election, especially if Obama is the nominee. He’s an exciting, inspirational speaker and next to him McCain looks like he’s from your grandfather’s generation. But it’s not just McCain’s age; it also has to do with the issues. McCain will be talking about military issues at a time that most people want to talk about jobs, the environment and affordability issues.
2. I spoke to a Republican consultant yesterday who said McCain’s age might actually be an asset, that he’ll look like an elder statesman and Obama will look like someone very young and inexperienced. Could Obama’s age play against him?
With Obama we will have hundreds of thousands of new voters brought into the process. Last weekend [at the Washington state caucuses] I watched thousands of people turn out to be Obama delegates. I was able to see firsthand as a Hillary delegate what that sort of turnout looks like. But whether it’s Obama or Hillary, it’s going to be about McCain being an older white guy who has a very different take on the world than the rest of us.
3. You live in Seattle, where I suspect the majority of people agree with you. But what about voters in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania? McCain’s take on the world might not be so out of step in those states.
I’ve conducted focus groups with all sorts of voters, young and old, Democrats, Republicans, and independents. People are so exhausted by the last eight years; I’m not seeing a lot of people who want to give the Republicans another chance. They are fed up. We’ve been dealt a stronger hand. People are tired of hearing about how you feed the war machine. I’ve seen the numbers and they just don’t lie. Tried-and-true Republican farmers are infuriated with what they have been fed. They feel duped. It goes to the question of: who are you going to trust now?
4. And what sort of a campaign would you run?
We should run a positive campaign. Democrats are excited. People who have never registered to vote and who have no faith in the system are truly engaged. I’ve been bracing for Swift Boat tactics against Obama but negative ads won’t work against him, they’ll have the reverse effect. At the same time, we need to keep the focus on the past eight years of dismal failures and embarrassment.
5. What are Obama’s strengths?
He can use his speaking abilities as a hammer. His speeches are something we haven’t heard in a long time. Emotion always trumps information – McCain would be the information campaign and Obama would be the emotion campaign. Some people will have a hard time voting for an African-American candidate or might see him as being beholden to younger voters, but his rhetoric inspires us. He is engaged and engaging. Also, there are a lot less negative hits against you when you’ve had a short career. There’s less to shoot at. The freshness will play for him.
6. And what if Hillary comes back and becomes the nominee?
It would be a totally different type of campaign. There’s a great difference between running for office and being in office. She runs for office very well versus the whirlwind of rhetoric that is Obama’s mainstay. He’s a rock star but she’s rock solid. She would win with women and could build bridges to young voters–not as much as Obama but enough to keep McCain on the run.