Monday, June 30, 2008

Obama's still the underdog

For Obama it’s still an uphill fight
by Kevin John Sowyrda
contributing writer
Thursday Jun 26, 2008

In recent days the new titular head of the Democratic Party (sorry Nancy) has been sporting an Obama-ized version of the presidential seal, to the utter revulsion of Republicans and even to the dismay and wincing curiosity of some more prudent Democrats who think it a little arrogant. You might remember what happened to the Patriots when Mayor Menino planned a celebration parade before the first down of the Superbowl. Bad karma is bad karma.

And out of this smug attitude I see a problem for the natural constituencies of Barack Obama, which include the gay community, a voting block increasingly mentioned by all the media for its political power. McCain could win at the heels of our own complacency, and with him would undoubtedly come the likes of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, in some incarnation or another. That’s more frightening than Bela Lugosi showing up at Club Cafe and a great incentive to put any euphoric sense of pending victory in a lock box.

And yes, in this space we once extolled some McCain virtues in the event that the November ballot provided the painful choice of Hillary Rodham Clinton versus the venerable Arizona senator. I was prepared to hold my nose and vote for the war-hero and political maverick in preference to that now deceased and buried political dynasty I could never trust. I present as evidence to the court of public opinion the absurd, "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell," policy, which marked the point in time when I gave up the Clintons like a bad date.

But now we have the menu I prayed for and it’s better than shrimp and escargot. My Primary campaign candidate of choice pulled it off. Barack brilliantly bested the overwhelming odds and outmaneuvered the battle tested political duo. The newest problem is, Senator Obama is enjoying the final victory lap before he’s put his running shoes on, inventing his trappings of office and apparently gloating over presidential opinion polls showing him blitzkrieging the Republican in November, even though such data is bound to change dramatically in the ensuing weeks and can also be suspect for reasons of race.

For my money, Barack is doing what everybody loves to do with John McCain, and that is to write him off as the post-World War II George Patton; a great man with no more wars to fight and no more fight left in him.

But I sense that McCain does indeed have the stuff for another battle and the upcoming town meetings (still being negotiated) are potentially a turning point event Obama may be entering with overconfidence.

For all his strengths - Obama is the best communicator the Democrats have fielded since J.F.K. and he’s all the better for having jousted with Clinton - he faces a daunting task in November that Camp Obama seems to be forgetting as they watch their West Wing DVDs so they’ll know how to behave in January.

Barack needs to campaign as if he’s the underdog, as does the gay community, which may still see a McCain-Romney ticket.

For example, the senator from Illinois must still improve his connections with many key voter demographics, including the elderly, Roman Catholic males, working class females and Hispanics. There’s time to make the pitch, but not if precious hours are spent sitting on laurels and inventing new presidential seals of office.

And then there’s the proverbial elephant in the parlor. Since racism will sadly be the last disease we cure in this little Republic of ours there are many Americans who will, behind that curtain, vote against a guy with dark skin. It’s shameful but it means Obama will have to compensate the same way he did when the Clintons shamelessly played the race card in South Carolina - by working hard and taking nothing for granted.

Don’t look for any clear evidence of racism in the polling data, even though the racism is clearly out there. This theory was painfully proven in 1982 when Tom Bradley, the popular African American mayor of Los Angles, enjoyed a commanding lead in the polls in his race against George Deukmejian, a Caucasian, for governor of California. But on Election Day Bradley was buried. What happened to the polls? The same thing you’ll see this year under the similar circumstances: many white voters are going to lie to pollsters when they say they support a black man, this time named Obama, thus inflating the numbers better than any oil speculator could do.

The real test may come shortly in a series of town meetings proposed by Senator McCain. I think Obama will likely attend the foray, which plays to McCain’s strength of speaking with small groups, instead of having to rally them to exuberance in a large crowd setting, a talent Obama has clearly mastered. I sense Obama is overconfident and may forget that in this format McCain could well score some serious points and quickly narrow the polling gap between the two major party nominees.

First, McCain isn’t going to run away from Iraq. Quite the contrary. I sense that his savvy and bold move will be to link our presence there to a continued flow of needed crude oil. He’ll put it to Obama this way. "Okay, senator, you want to pull out of Iraq. Fine. But what will you do the day Iran moves in, cuts off our oil supply, and, consequently, Americans pay ten dollars a gallon for gasoline?"

It’s going to be a peppering of foreign policy brainteasers designed to show McCain as Henry Kissinger and Barack, in stark contrast, as a freshman at the Tufts School of Diplomacy.

Given the gas crisis it would be a brilliant strategy for the Republicans. To link a precipitous withdrawal of U.S. ground troops from Iraq to a dangerous spike in gas prices would be to make McCain ironically strong on an issue, which has heretofore been one of his Achilles heel.

Naturally, the scenario I provide is hypothetical. It’s next to impossible to predict the specificity of the debate strategy McCain will employ in the coming weeks and whether or not it will resonate. But my money says McCain’s about to start playing a very aggressive game of politics, utilizing his years of experience against an opponent whose own strengths don’t include, well, years of experience.

Those who are writing John McCain’s political epitaph may want put a cap on the ink well. Being written off is just what McCain relishes. That way we’ll be unprepared when he comes out swinging.

And if McCain goes to the White House, in a cabinet seat or better I predict Mitt Romney will sit.

That’s plenty of reason to stay sharp and get out the vote for Obama.

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