Obama in a Blowout: The Presidential Election Will Not Be Close
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In early December 2007, at a time when Hillary Clinton was tracking 20-plus points ahead of the Democratic field in national polls, I published an article contending that Hillary Clinton was an inherently weak candidate, a beatable candidate, and that Barack Obama would be a stronger match against Republicans.
I argued that she had the highest "unfavorable" rating of anyone who ever had run for the presidency; that she was the only Democratic candidate who could unite and energize the Republican base; that she was running 10 to 15 points behind in generic Democrat vs. Republican presidential polls; that her head-to-head matchups with the Republican candidates were poor; that in Iowa, where she was the only female candidate with seven men, she was polling only 26 percent; that several Democratic U.S. Senate candidates had told me she would pull the ticket down in their states; and that Bill was a potentially large, uncontrollable liability (even I did not know how true that prediction would become!). Hillary never was "inevitable." The evidence of her imminent demise was there for anyone who wanted to look.
OK, that was then, this is now.
The November presidential election is not going to be close. Barack Obama is going to beat John McCain by 8 to 10 points in the national popular vote and win 300 to 350 electoral votes. Obama is going to wipe out McCain mano a mano.
I am far more confident making this prediction than I was in predicting Hillary's demise. There are many reasons why.
The Political Environment
The Republican Party is led -- and branded -- by an extraordinarily unpopular president, whose policies McCain has staunchly defended and supported (95 percent voting congruence in 2007). In the recent CBS News/NYTimes poll, Bush is at 28 percent approval, 65 percent disapproval; in the Hart/Newhouse poll, he is at 27 percent approval, 66 percent disapproval. While some presidents have fallen to low levels in the past, what is truly remarkable about Bush is how long-term and persistent voter disapproval of him has been, and the depth of voter sentiment: A May 12 Washington Post /ABC poll showed only 15 percent of voters "strongly approve," while 52 percent "strongly disapprove."
Voters think, correctly, that the country is on the wrong track. In the Hart/Newhouse poll, 15 percent of voters said the country was headed in the "right direction," while an astounding 73 percent said "wrong direction." Remember, these polls include all voters, not just Democrats.
On issues, Republicans are on the short end of everything except the military and national security. Among voters, in the NYTimes/CBS poll, when asked which party is better, on health care 63 percent say Democrats while only 19 percent say Republicans; the economy, 56 percent say Democrats, 28 percent say Republicans; sharing your moral values, 50 percent say Democrats, 34 percent say Republicans; and, dealing with Iraq, 50 percent say Democrats, 34 percent say Republicans. The Democratic Party has a 52 percent favorable and 41 percent unfavorable rating; the Republican Party has a 33 percent favorable and 58 percent unfavorable rating. A whopping 63 percent say the United States needs to withdraw from Iraq within 12 months; McCain wants to stay roughly forever -- and attack Iran. The Washington Post/ABC poll asked, "Which party do you trust to do a better job coping with the main problems the nation faces over the next few years?" Democrats were chosen over Republicans, 53 percent to 32 percent.
The U.S. economy is sinking (while McCain has said he doesn't know much about the economy); gas prices are skyrocketing; the housing market has collapsed and people are losing their homes; and the Iraq Recession shows no signs of abating.
McCain has been able to stay close to parity in polls matching him with Obama, but that is the product of the bashing Obama has taken from the Clinton campaign. Once that internal scrap is behind him and he can go head to head against McCain, his polling is going to soar.
Even in fund-raising, a traditional Republican strength, the Republicans are at a disadvantage. At last reported count, Obama had $51 million in cash on hand; McCain had $11 million. In the combined cash of the national party committees, Republicans had $55.5 million; Democrats $87.1 million. The netroots has raised unprecedented amounts of money for Democrats, especially Obama; labor unions have gone deeper into their pockets and are raising more money for Democrats than in prior elections; and, even business PACs have given more money to Democrats! Business blows with the wind, and it knows which way the wind is blowing.
Simply put, this is the worst possible time for any Republican to be running for president. And this is not simply my opinion; it is an opinion that has many adherents in the Republican Party and among traditional Republican supporters. Representative Tom Davis, from Virginia, in an internal memo to Republicans, recently wrote, "The political atmosphere facing Republicans this November is the worst since Watergate and is far more toxic than the fall of 2006.The Republican brand is in the trash can. [I]f we were dog food, they would take us off the shelf."
While many ardent Democrats would disagree with this assessment, I personally consider McCain to be an honorable, decent man. I have enormous respect for -- and cannot forget -- the fact that he declined the opportunity to be released from a North Vietnamese prison because his father had been a Navy admiral and chose instead to stay with his comrades for 5Â½ years. Very few of us would have done that -- I know I would not have. There is a loyalty and integrity there that we need to remember and honor. And, despite efforts to disparage the "maverick" label, the reality is that, for a substantial part of his political career, he was a Republican maverick on a variety of issues, including the environment, immigration, campaign reform, taxes and the budget. These are not inconsequential disagreements with the Republican Party, and he has been almost singular in being willing to disagree with the Republican establishment. But that is the previous incarnation of McCain, not the version we've seen for the last four years or the version who has to run between now and November.
The problem with McCain is that his brain is no longer working. There is something wrong. Many doctor friends of mine hypothesize Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which is consistent with his 5Â½ years of great stress in prison and which can explain his violent temper, his memory lapses and his frequent mental disconnects. It also is possible that he is suffering mini-strokes, which cause momentary double vision, partial blackouts and confusion, and which could explain why he can say incredibly stupid things, sometimes the same dumb thing several times in one day, without appearing to understand what he just said. Whatever the specific cause, he is not healthy, and mentally he is struggling to hold it together.
What we are going to see in the general election from McCain is a ton of mistakes. The very thing the press likes about him, his candor and shoot-from-the-hip style, is going to kill him when the full weight of media attention is trained on him. He never has been a good speaker with a prepared text (last night, his speech was characteristically wooden, with several word confusions). The media has always loved the quick, gritty, candid McCain, but that version is gone; he now is a damaged, slower-thinking McCain, but his habits will remain the same. He will still try to be the quick wit, the maverick; it just isn't going to work. And while McCain is still capable (with help) of firing off some zingers that hit, he will be unable to sustain a narrative -- or fool the American voters -- for the next five months. This is not just about being 71; it is about being a very old 71. It might be sad to watch, but I for one will have no sympathy. There is too much at stake.
Obama is the perfect candidate for Democrats, and a nightmare for McCain. Obama, who by every metric is a brilliant strategist, thinker and speaker, is going to run circles around McCain. McCain, who is not a very good speaker even on his best day, will appear slow, befuddled and confused; he will make gaffes. Obama will be charismatic, smart, thoughtful, high-minded, alert and substantive. It will be no contest. And adding to Obama's natural advantages, McCain has just enough integrity to try to match up with Obama on issues. In that debate on substance, Obama's overwhelming intellectual superiority and mental alertness will become obvious. There will be the believers, who have jumped aboard the Obama campaign and will continue to multiply, but there also is going to be another type of vote that is going to swing heavily to Obama: the default vote. Voters are going to default to Obama because it will become obvious that McCain simply is not up to the task of being president.
This is going to be the first not-close presidential election since 1988. You heard it here first.
Guy T. Saperstein is a past president of the Sierra Club Foundation; previously, he was one of the National Law Journal's "100 Most Influential Lawyers in America."