In following a presidential race, the most important way to understand what is happening is to follow voter responses to open ended questions. Those are questions which ask “What do you like the most about Barack Obama?” and “What do you like the least about Barack Obama.” These questions, which let voters tell pollsters what they think in their own words, offer the best way to figure out what is really going on.
Published on TheHill.com on August 19, 2008
For the first time in memory, the two parties are holding their conventions right after one another. Within 72 hours of Obama’s acceptance speech on the night of Aug. 28, in front of 75,000 adoring fans outdoors at Invesco Field, the Republican convention’s opening gavel will come crashing down. How will it work? What will be the impact of these nearly simultaneous events? Nobody really knows, but the answer is critical. Usually, the post-convention polling sets a pattern that lasts at least until the candidates debate.
The worst thing about the new Zogby show that has Obama down five points to McCain (as opposed to his July lead of seven points) is that there is now virtually no gender gap in the race. In July, Obama was getting 53% of the support of women as opposed to 47% among men. But now he is winning only 43% of women and 41% of men, so while his male support is down by six points, his female backing is off by ten points.
Meet Igor Sechin, nominally the Deputy Prime Minister of Russia. In fact, he is the dominant power in the Kremlin. In Russia, the speculation is over whether Putin is his puppet! According to top Kremlinologists, Sechin was calling the shots when Russia invaded Georgia.
Take a minute to look at Sechin’s photo (Go to http://www.daylife.com/photo/0gul0IVfMXbEY). It explains all you need to know about him!
Robert Amsterdam, an international lawyer who knows all about the inner workings in Moscow, calls the invasion, in part, “an effort to sidetrack Dmitry Medvedev,” the newly elected Russian president who has focused on bringing to Russia the rule of law. Determined to show real power and to trivialize the legalisms of Medvedev, Sechin and Putin ignored the Russian president in invading their neighbor.
Published in the New York Post on August 18, 2008
Last week raised important questions about whether Barack Obama is strong enough to be president. On the domestic political front, he showed incredible weakness in dealing with the Clintons, while on foreign and defense questions, he betrayed a lack of strength and resolve in standing up to Russia’s invasion of Georgia.
This two-dimensional portrait of weakness underscores fears that Obama might, indeed, be a latter-day Jimmy Carter.
For both John McCain and Barack Obama, locked in a tight duel, safety seems to be the prevailing sentiment.
McCain is worried about a right-wing backlash against Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and even against Tom Ridge (the pro-choice Republican former Pennsylvania governor). The eminently safe choice for the GOP is Tim Pawlenty, the Minnesota governor. His selection wouldn’t do much one way or the other, but it would give McCain a good talking head to complement his ticket.
Obama will, of course, steer clear of Hillary. He seems to have three key options for VP – Tim Kaine, the Virginia govenor; Sen. Joseph Biden (Del.); and Sen. Evan Bayh (Ind.).
Bayh has gotten some flak lately from the left and is suspect on the abortion issue. He also is bound at the hip to Mark Penn, who wins no points in popularity on the left of the party. Kaine has the same defects that Obama has – he’s a former city councilman and mayor of Richmond, a city with less than 200,000 population (some colleges have more). So a state senator will run with a city councilman for president? I don’t think that will work well. Biden – crusty, talkative, argumentative old Joe Biden – might be the best choice. At least he knows where the men’s room is in the White House!
DICK MORRIS’ ’08 PLAY-BY-PLAY
Volume 1, #32
August 18, 2008
OBAMA TEACHES US: HOW TO LOSE A CONVENTION
For the first time in recent memory, the Democratic and Republican conventions will be held on consecutive weeks. The Democratic gathering, in Denver, will begin on Monday, August 25 and run through Thursday, August 29. The Republican conclave, in Minneapolis-St. Paul, will start three days later on Monday, September 1 and run through Thursday, September 4.
Obama is certain to have a big bounce in the polls after his acceptance speech outdoors to 75,000 spectators Thursday, August 29th. But how will the bump stand up during the Republican convention? It is unexplored territory.
Will the Obama spell linger over the Republican convention, impeding any real gain for McCain? Or will his magic dissipate under the pounding he is sure to receive, day and night, during the Republican convention?
To bring about the quick-dissipation scenario, the McCain campaign has done a good job of laying the groundwork for a dismissal of the Obama acceptance speech. While the night of the speech, it is likely to stoke all the passion that he generated during his campaign in the primaries – and more so – McCain has laid the basis for asking during the Republican convention the classic question Mondale asked of the charismatic Gary Hart in 1984: “where’s the beef?”
By running ads which highlight Obama’s celebrity and charisma, the McCain campaign can dismiss the speech as all sizzle and no steak. They can make Obama’s rock star popularity work against him, much as it did against Bobby Kennedy in 1968. The Senator’s campaign, brilliantly captured in the new book The Last Campaign by Thurston Clarke, was haunted by the kids who engulfed him morning, noon, and night. He had to replace his tie clip and cufflinks several times a day because they were ripped off. Once somebody even took off his shoes! Voters put down his campaign as a youth crusade, unworthy of serious consideration. McCain is trying to marginalize Obama in the same way.
McCain’s polling likely shows that voters distrust the puppy love with which young people greet the Obama20candidacy and worry that he has not been properly vetted. They will probably use the very enthusiasm he arouses against him, portraying him as unsafe and risky.
The days when a political convention actually meant anything are, of course, long over. But the four day and night extravaganza still means a huge amount in our presidential contests. A bad convention (like Bush in 1992) can be fatal. A good convention (like Bush in 2004 or Clinton in 1996) can be decisive.
The average convention gives its candidate a bounce of ten points in the polls — the standard by which conventions are measured.
But Obama is showing, nonetheless, an almost historic inability to control his own convention. He has allowed the Clintons to invade his time and hog the spotlight. The effect will be to reduce his convention to a one night stand. A great convention acceptance speech might give him 8-10 points, but its unlikely to generate more and it is not likely to stand up to the Republican onslaught the following week.
The most likely scenario is a tied race after both conventions and there is even some possibility of a McCain lead.
WHO WATCHES CONVENTIONS?
Network commentators delight in highlighting how few people watch conventions, but they are focused on ratings, which measure what all people watch. Political surveys, which ask what likely voters watch, indicate a tremendous interest in following the conventions.
In 1996, when there was much less interest than there is in this race, about 20% of the electorate followed the gavel to gavel coverage on CSPAN and PBS. Another 30% watched most of the prime time coverage and a total of 75% watched the acceptance speeches. Conventions are the decisive media event of the early campaign, outshone only by the three televised debates.
But to capitalize on a convention, one has to treat each night on its own, projecting a game plan=2 0for that night’s viewers and monitoring how much of a bounce each evening generates. That’s why the Clintons’ expropriation of two of the four nights is so damaging to Obama’s campaign. It assures that Hillary’s candidacy, not his, will be front and center for the bulk of the convention. Obama’s backers and handlers may assume that all anyone watches is the final acceptance speech, but that would be a misjudgment. The fact is that viewership on each of the four nights is very high.
For every ten people who watch the acceptance speech on Thursday, eight watch on Wednesday, seven watch on Tuesday, and six watch on Monday (an average of the Neilson ratings over the past few conventions). So most of the electorate will get a total emersion in what-might-have-been when Hillary and Bill speak, not exactly the warm up Obama needs for his acceptance speech.
CAN EVENTS DERAIL OBAMA?
Asked what could get in the way of his political plans, former British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan answered “events, dear boy, events.”
The Russian invasion of Georgia shows how quickly events, particularly abroad, can change domestic political calculations. While American voters are determined to cast their ballots based on domestic issues like the economy, energy, and health care, events may blow them off course and lead to an election based on international problems.
The more attention focuses on foreign and national security issues, of course, the more likely is a McCain victory. Voters would not have trusted the ingénue Bill Clinton in 1992 over the veteran George H. W. Bush had not the international scene been quiescent. It was possible to take a chance on Clinton because no pressing national security issues seemed to be at hand.
But foreign affairs may not be so docile in 2008. With the United States fighting a two-front war in Iraq and Afghanistan and with Russia bent on a program of imperial expansionism in Eastern Europe, events may force Americans to elect the more experienced and seasoned of the candidates.
But the most serious threat to international peace, and to a cakewalk for Obama, may come from the issues triggered by Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and the threat it poses for Israel.
AS ISRAEL GOES, SO GOES THE UNITED STATES?
Facing a potential existential threat in Iran’s nuclear program, Israeli politicians are hotly debating the nature of the Jewish State’s response. Overshadowing the dialogue is the Kadima Party primary to be held in mid-September. The top two contenders are Tizipi Livni and Shaul Mofaz. Livni, the current foreign minister in the Olmert government, has been Condi Rice’s point person in the negotiations with the Palestinian Authority and Syria. An advocate of diplomacy, she generally throws cold water on the need for immediate military action against Iran. Her opponent, Shaul Mofaz, the current Transportation Minister, is the former Chief of Staff of the Army and has said publicly that he believes an air strike against Iran is necessary.
Currently, Livni is ahead of Mofaz, but Olmert, the still serving prime minister, is openly opposed to her candidacy. Olmert has indicated that he will not step aside as prime minister until a new prime minister can be named. That not only means that Livni would have to win the Kadima Primary, but that she would need to cobble together a majority of the Knesset to serve as prime minister. That won’t be easy. Barak, the leader of the Labor Party is highly critical of Livni and Shas, the religious party, may refuse to serve in a government with her (or under any woman). Shas and Labor are key element s of Olmert’s coalition and, if they leave, it is hard to see how Livni would put together a government.
If Livni can’t put together a coalition, then Olmert will stay in power and will be able to exact vengeance on party members who voted for Livni. With such a prospect, Kadima members may vote for Mofaz.
If Mofaz wins, then an attack on Iran is very likely. But when would it happen?
Clearly Israel would want to attack while Bush is in office since he will certainly do all he can to help the attack, while Obama might not. But could Israel wait until after the election? What would happen if President-elect Obama told Mofaz not to attack Iran? Israel could no more ignore the request of the president-elect than it could if the request came from a sitting president. But it matters less what the Democratic candidate says before the election.
So Israel may attack Iran and it may do so before the US election. If that helps elect McCain, so be it.
All this goes to show how fragile Obama’s support is. A deep foreign crisis would drain his candidacy of its glitter and invest it with fears of his inexperience, and naiveté.
AND FOR VICE PRESIDENT?
Obama’s goal in choosing a vice president seems to be to avoid controversy. Picking an Evan Bayh or a Tim Kaine would be a safe choice. (Although some will worry about Bayh’s close ties to Mark Penn and others will be concerned about Kaine’s lack of experience and the absence of any national security credentials).
But he would be better advised to choose Joe Biden or somebody with good national security credentials. If a foreign crisis heats up during the campaign, a vice president who has been through it all would be a reassuring sight to anxious voters.
Kaine has even less experience than Obama. A city councilman, a mayor of Richmond, and now a governor of Virginia, he has hardly set foot in Washington DC. Apart from some time as a young volunteer in Honduras he appears to be without any foreign policy experience at all. While he would emphasize that the Obama/Kaine ticket would be the non-Washington slate, choosing a vice president whose lacks so closely parallel his own could be going too far.
I still wonder why Obama does not give more serious consideration to Bill Richardson. The Hispanic vote is in play this year and Obama has little popularity among Latinos, as his loss of their votes in the primaries makes clear. Richardson’s extensive foreign experience and his service in the cabinet both make him an attractive candidate.
McCain is trying to choose between Joe Lieberman and Mitt Romney. He is worried about either choice. The conservatives, led by the talk show hosts, have vowed to leave the ticket if Lieberman is the vice presidential nominee. But choosing him would so clearly help McCain win swing voters and would send a message of bipartisanship all could hear. Romney would trigger disapproval from evangelicals who are suspicious both of his flip flops on abortion and gays and his Mormon faith. Either choice has its drawbacks.
My guess is that McCain may play it safe and choose Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, a safe choice, although not one that will do much to attract votes.
But there is also some possibility that McCain could score a winning ticket by putting Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison on as vice president. With Obama showing weakness among women over 40, nominating a woman could be a master stroke. Electing a woman vice president has long been a goal of the feminist community and women all over America would be attracted to such a ticket.
A good Senator with a fine record, Hutchison might bring real strength to the ticket and give McCain’s candidacy an historical aspect to compete with Obama’s.
***COPYRIGHT EILEEN MCGANN AND DICK MORRIS 2008. REPRINTS WITH PERMISSION ONLY***
Published on FOXNews.com on August 15, 2008
Hillary and Bill have hijacked the Denver convention, making it into a carbon copy of what it would have looked like had she won until the last possible moment. By the time Obama gets up to speak and put his stamp on the convention, Hillary will have had one prime time night all to herself. Bill will have pre-empted a second night. Hillary will have had all the nominating and seconding speeches she wants. And the roll call of the states would record, in graphic detail, how the voters of state after state rejected Obama’s candidacy in the primaries. Only then, after three and a half days of all Clinton all the time will the convention then, finally, turn to its nominee and allow him to have an hour in the sun!
Poland, chastened by the vision of Russian tanks invading Georgia, has just decided to sign a deal with the United States to deploy an anti-missile system that Russia strongly opposes on its territory. The ruling party in Poland, the Civic Assembly, won the last election, in part, by castigating the missile deal. But with Russian troops streaming across the Georgian border, it doesn’t seem like such a bad idea after all.
This is only the beginning of a backlash against Russia that will emerge in the coming months. Putin has gone too far and showed too much of who he really is. The result will be to trigger a level of defiance in the former satellite countries and in NATO that he has not anticipated. Ukraine will be admitted to NATO. American involvement with Georgia will increase. And Putin will soon find out how expensive his miscalculation was.
Hillary and Bill are demonstrating the ease with which Barack Obama can be pushed around. With no real leverage over Obama, they have managed to secure prime time speeches for themselves on Tuesday and Wednesday night at the convention and to get Hillary’s name placed in nomination. They have won all of their demands for convention scheduling. In the name of party unity, Obama has given away the store. After the nominations, there will be a roll call vote. This further assures that the convention will be a continuation of the primaries and that Obama will be a guest at his own convention.
This begs the basic question: Is Barack Obama strong enough to be president?