Presidential Race Maps Writing on the Wall

Why Obama Won: The Clinton Factor

Posted Nov 12, 2008 at 1:14 AM by Maurice Berger

During the closely fought Democratic primaries and caucuses, a growing and thunderous chorus of Obama supporters (mostly male, by PollTrack's count) called for Hillary Clinton to withdraw from the race. One problem: throughout the latter races, Clinton trailed Obama by just a few hundred delegates at most. And, so, the contest continued to the bitter end, early June. At the time, many Obama supporters felt the hard fought contest would hurt Obama in the fall. In the end, it turned out to be a great asset, allowing him to insulate himself against potential negatives, such as the candidate's association with the Rev. Wright, Bill Ayers, and others. Once aired, and adeptly handled by the Obama campaign, these factors were neutralized to a certain extent for the fall campaign. More important, the long primary season allowed the Obama campaign to build deep and formidable on-the-ground operations in virtually all of the battleground states. As contributions flowed in--indeed, the heated match between the two Democratic challengers fired up their respective bases--Obama built a powerful fund raising and voter turnout database. The icing on the cake: after the "bruising" primary fight ended, Obama was able to attract the lion's share of Clinton supporters on 4 November. Obama pollster Joel Benenson, in Time magazine, notes the campaign never believed it would have trouble winning back supporters of Sen. Hillary Clinton. Said Benenson: "The notion that voters who supported Senator Clinton would vote Republican in the general election was never supported by what we saw in our polling. At the beginning of June, going into the general election, Obama had a double-digit lead in our battleground poll against McCain among women. He was competitive among Catholics and led 2 to 1 among Latinos. The press corps had focused on all these groups in the last three months of the primary and was convinced that they would pose problems for us in the general. But that just wasn't true, and we recognized that early on. As a result, we were able to focus on swing voters instead of worrying about parts of the base that were already with us. We looked at groups where Obama could make gains and at places where he could broaden the map."

Going Negative

Posted Oct 07, 2008 at 1:07 AM by Maurice Berger

Does going negative work? While public opinion surveys continually register voter disapproval of negative campaigning, all-too-often hardball rhetoric and attacks ads do work. The McCain campaign has just intensified a new negative strategy: exploiting Obama's ties to controversial associates, from the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. to William Ayers, a founder of the radical Weathermen group responsible for a string of domestic bombings more than 30 years ago. The Obama campaign has counter-punched with talk of McCain's perceived "instability" or his involvement in the Keating Five scandal back in the 1980s. McCain's strategy, in a number of ways, mirrors that of the Gerald R. Ford campaign in 1976. In the summer of 1976, the incumbent Republican president was more than thirty points behind his Democratic challenger, a newcomer to national politics, Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter. Over a four month period, Ford and his surrogates relentlessly attacked Carter as untested, inexperienced, untrustworthy, and relatively unknown, even to Democratic primary and caucus voters, who the Ford campaign asserted picked the charismatic newcomer in a rush to judgment. Ford and his surrogates implied that Carter's tone was messianic; his supporters cultist. By Election  Day, Ford lost by a whisker (and may well have won if not for one amazing debate blooper). While Obama is ahead right now, both public opinion surveys and reporting in a number of swing states continue to suggest an undertow of discontent, anxiety, or uncertaintly about the Democrat (due to factors as diverse as racism, the candidate's relative youth, and his perceived  "liberalism."). For the time being, the dire economic news has helped the Democrat get out his message and overcome these doubts to some degree. But is the Illinois Senator vulnerable to the onslaught of negative messages about him now being disseminated by the McCain campaign, the Republican party, and 527 groups? Conversely, will the Obama campaign's negative counter punch--painting McCain as unstable, unpredictable, and unable to handle a crisis--create doubt of its own in the minds of anxious voters? Will either of these strategies backfire?