Alright, so it’s been an unpredictable election year. When the primaries began, Hillary Clinton was the heavy favorite and John McCain was all but dead in the water with Fred Thompson’s entry in the race being eagerly awaited by conservative and moderate Republicans alike. And something may yet happen – the oft-cited, much worried about, “October surprise” – in the next 30 days, as the Commentariat keeps reminding us.
But rising unemployment and growing worries about their own personal future weigh heavily on voter’s minds, affecting their choice for president. Some 159,000 more jobs were reported lost in Friday’s report and U6 figure is 11%, the highest figure in decades. U6 is what the Bureau of Labor Statistics calls its measurement of actual unemployment claims plus people who stopped looking for work plus those who are underemployed meaning they lost a job and took anything to have some money coming. Beyond this, more than one million jobs were lost this year alone.
But while a bad economy always plays well for Democrats, the fact is that Obama consistently beats McCain and has for months.
Especially disturbing to the folks in McCain’s Virginia headquarters is that their man’s last lead was Sept. 16, right after his convention, when he was up by one point over Obama; his biggest lead over his Democratic rival was two days earlier when the tracking poll found McCain up by three.
In fact, in the roughly 130 days since Rasmussen’s presidential tracking poll began on June 4, McCain led Obama on only 10 of them.
Meanwhile, for each of the past nine days, Obama has been at 50% or 51% while McCain has been at 44% or 45%; over the past two weeks McCain pulled even with Obama only once.
Clearly, it’s this kind of trending data that led conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks to declare on Friday night’s PBS NewsHour, “I can’t see how McCain can win.”
Joe Biden did his job Thursday night; now, Obama must do his for the next 30 days.
He must hammer McCain relentlessly on everything from health care to Iraq and Afghanistan to relief for the middle class. Obama must use that obscure, wonkish U6 number – 11% of America is either unemployed or underemployed – to drive home the point that people are worse off now than they were four, eight, years ago. He must hammer home his program for creating jobs, addressing climate change and how, after eight years of Bush-McCain foreign policy, the entire world hates America. Meanwhile, Obama’s headquarters must track every Republican and right wing smear, sending Biden or a high profile surrogate on television within hours to knock it to smithereens.
This week’s debate is crucial. In Obama’s first debate with McCain, he proved to viewers that he had the smarts, knowledge, gravitas and expertise to be president. Now, he must use the “town hall” session to relate to the audience in the gymnasium and the viewers at home in a way that he’s not been very good at doing. The topic is his – the economy – but the format is McCain’s.
One of my sources inside the McCain campaign is a woman working in a swing state. On the phone Saturday morning, she tells me “Sarah stopped the jokes about her last week. Now, John has to show voters that he actually ‘gets’ what they’re worried about. That’s not John’s strength.”
From Obama headquarters in Chicago comes a similar assessment from my contact. “If Barack had to do this six months ago, McCain would have wiped the floor with him. But he’s learned how to talk to people in small groups, intimate settings. He’s better than people think he is and that needs to come through Tuesday.”
Thirty days to go and it appears as if the election is Obama’s to lose. He can all but lock it up Tuesday night.
The Progressive Curmudgeon
If you’re born in Milwaukee, you are born a Democrat. And so I gravitated naturally to liberal politics, first as journalist and then an activist. I’ve been writing since I was eight years old and, after working in newsrooms for far too long, I have devoted much of the past decade as an independent investigtative jouralist. When not writing about politics or George Bush, I scribble out essays on the peculiarites of modern times.
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