Thursday, October 30, 2008
McCain's Carolina trouble
For weeks it has been known that McCain had trouble in North Carolina. However, when Politico.com and others placed South Carolina in the "McCain leaning" column instead of "McCain solid," people scratched their heads about what was going on.
Frankly, the situation is not that puzzling. John McCain has never been an overwhelming favorite in South Carolina. Further, there are intangibles in play that add to the situation.
First, let's address John McCain and South Carolina. John McCain won the Republican primary in January with about 33% of the Republican vote. His numbers were actually weaker than his primary loss to George W. Bush in 2000. That means 67% of Republican voters in South Carolina preferred someone other than McCain. Then, consider that Barack Obama got more votes in the Democratic primary than the all the Republicans combined. I know that the fact there was snow in the upstate was a factor. However, the numbers are the numbers.
Among those voters who preferred someone other than McCain are a number of voters who loathe John McCain. Those voters would rather caste a vote for the Libertarian or Constitution party candidates than for McCain. They cite McCain's stance on illegal immigration. While they do not make up large numbers, those voters' disgust for McCain helps to set a tone that dampens excitement for his campaign among Republicans. Even stalwart Republicans I know, who have voted Republican there entire lives, are more excited to vote for Vice President than President. That is not a good thing.
As a result, McCain has hovered around the fifty percent mark in various general election polls. For an incumbent or a well known Presidential candidate in a traditionally Republican state, that is a weak showing.
Then come the intangibles, things John McCain has little to do with.
First, there is Governor Mark Sanford and his brand in South Carolina. As written about earlier on this blog, Sanford and his cronies have blown up the old Campbell Republican coalition with their narrow agenda. It has made more people comfortable with voting for a Democrat.
Then there is the race factor. No one talks about this for fear of being called politically incorrect or worse. But, let's be frank. African Americans are excited about Barack Obama and they will turn out and vote for him. The excitement is understandable. If an Irish American with a name starting with Mc was in position to be President, I would probably be inclined to ignore the issues and vote my heritage. There is a relatively large African American population in the Carolinas, and that population is excited and eager to vote more than ever.
Third, there is the huge number of new voters. It is a wild card. Are those voters made up of people who are scared to death of Obama and want to vote against him or are those voters people who embrace Obama and can't wait to caste their votes for him? Frankly, there is no way of knowing. The new voters are not on any polling lists by the traditional means. However, if history gives us any indication, if such a large amount of new voters turn out to vote, they will make the difference in South Carolina, one way or the other.
The next factor of why McCain has Carolina trouble is money. Being outspent nearly 10 to 1 by Obama, McCain had to take South Carolina, and even his home state of Arizona for granted, to have a chance at competing in the traditional swing states. Obama's huge war chest gave him the chance to blanket markets that shared South Carolina and North Carolina voters with ads.
I know that some will cry out that Obama broke his word by not accepting federal financing and limits as he promised. Well, he did break his word. It is sort of like the fact he sat in a church for 15 years but did not know what his pastor said. Like any politician, Obama finds a way to change what his word and honor means.
That brings us to the last factor in Obama's surprising rise in the Carolinas. Simply put, Obama has redefined Presidential campaigns. While I believe, that like Nixon, Obama will face problems with how he conducted his campaign, one can not ignore just how good at the ground game and at fund raising the Obama campaign is. There is something about Obama that makes his supporters go to the next level. McCain, though I support him, does not have that. Even, if by some electoral miracle, McCain wins on Tuesday, nothing changes the fact that Obama conducted a Presidential campaign that might forever reshape how such campaigns are carried out.
It is perhaps that last factor that has McCain playing defense in the Carolinas. Obama's approach, like Eisenhower's use of the television media in 1952, and LBJ's use of the helicopter and targeted voters in his 1948 senate race in Texas, has changed how people from now on will play the game.