Sunday, September 21, 2008

Many Challenges and Risks Remain for Obama

I mentioned last night that this race is far from over, and promised I would outline a few of the reasons why I am very far from a celebratory mood. Here are a few of the reasons why I remain concerned about the state of the race, aside from general issues such as it still being early. These aren’t necessarily reasons to be very worried, but they are reasons to avoid complacency.

Obama Really Doesn't Have a Solid Lead

Sure, he made up lots of ground against McCain last week, but he was behind before. The national polls show him ahead, but not by very much—generally only a couple of points.

My bigger concern, though, is that we have not yet seen a swing towards Obama in the state-level polls that matches the swing in the national polls. He’s had some good results in a few states, including places where McCain has led for most of the race, but he’s also shown some weakness in traditional Democratic strongholds such as Wisconsin and Minnesota.

I’m going to keep watching the state polls, but what I see right now doesn’t fill me with confidence.

Obama’s Strength on the Economy is Overstated

Pundits and Obama supporters keep assuming that because Obama swung back into the lead this week that it must have been because Americans see him as the better candidate to deal with economic issues, but the polling doesn’t really support this claim. It’s true that McCain looked confused and contradicted himself repeatedly with regard to the crisis, and this probably helped Obama in the short run, but the Democrat has a long way to go if he wants to convince Americans that he is the best man to solve the problems.

Rust Belt Vulnerability

I think Obama is vulnerable in two key states he pretty much has to take if he’s going to win this thing: Michigan and Pennsylvania. Obama still leads in both, but only by slim margins.

Michigan is a problem area because Obama never campaigned there due to the primaries fiasco. There’s also the issue of the very unpopular governor there, and the scandal involving the mayor of Detroit. This is a state where the economy matters a great deal, but there are also a lot of “values” voters and overall, much uncertainty due to emotions running high.

Pennsylvania is similar in some respects, different in others. One big problem for Obama here is racism; another is that PA was the target of the “bittergate” nonsense in the spring, which you can be sure that the McCain camp will keep bringing up.

The Gun Control Issue

Obama has a serious problem here that I think too few people have discussed so far: gun rights advocates hate him, and he’s an easy target for negative advertising from such organizations. This amplifies his potential weakness in states like MI and PA, where I expect to see a massive NRA campaign against him in October.

The Palin Myth Persists

More Americans are learning about what a truly awful candidate she is every day, but the pace at which the voting populace wakes up remains slow. Many rural voters aren’t really interested in listening to reason on this issue, and so far the Obama/Biden camp has done virtually nothing in terms of trying to point out her weak points.

The McCain campain is succeeding in perpetuating the Palin Myth by hiding her from the media, and most people don’t care. There’s hope that eventually she’ll make a big enough gaffe that there will be a sea change in attitudes towards her, but hope is all it is.

Obama Needs to do Well in the Debates

Obama knows his stuff, is intelligent and has a better record on the issues than McCain. But the Arizona senator tends to come across as more confident, and he does a better job of deflecting difficult questions with non-answers and irrelevant anecdotes. Obama needs to do well in the debates, and I think he can, but it's far from a certainty.

The “Swiftboating” Has Yet to Begin

I feel pretty confident that the really nasty stuff intended to take Obama down with voters on an emotional level, is being held back for the second half of October. I expect to see Jeremiah Wright dragged back into the headlines again, and I have a gut feeling that the Republicans have at least one other damning story or storyline to use against Obama, which they will trot out when it suits them best. That’s in addition to all the 527s that are going to come slithering out of the woodwork as well.

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