The Pitfalls of McCain’s Experience Argument

May 22, 2008

The Democratic primaries witnessed a fundamental question of change versus experience. The electorate could be neatly sliced into those two categories, with each bloc overwhelmingly supporting one candidate. Hillary regularly pulled over ninety percent of voters deeming experience the most desired quality in a candidate; in other words, she essentially maxed out among “experience” voters. To then bolster her numbers, Hillary was forced to either gain ground among “change” voters or shift people’s top priority to experience. Neither happened. Hillary failed to crack the conundrum, which ultimately toppled the campaign.

Translate Hillary’s enigma to the general election. McCain will run a reincarnation of her strength and experience campaign (with outside groups serving up the unpatriotic salsa). Thus, he will likely near or surpass Hillary’s numbers among “experience” voters. But as the primaries revealed, a candidate cannot build a winning coalition solely through the backing of “experience” voters. To broaden his support, McCain holds the same two options that fatally vexed the Clintons.

Consider the first option: improving his standing among “change” voters, a herculean task when tied to an unpopular president and party. McCain has publicly broken from the administration on several issues, hoping his departures from Bush orthodoxy will produce a newsreel of Sister Souljah moments. However, his maverick aura fades on the two crucial issues, Iraq and the economy. This lethal duo is driving the electorate’s disaffection with Republicans, yet McCain firmly adheres to party doctrine on matters of guns and butter.  The Democrats hope to amplify this conformity by tying McCain and Bush in an inextricable knot. 

The other option calls for persuading voters to emphasize experience over change. Bluntly, this requires fear-mongering, a tactic the Republicans have exercised successfully in the past. However, Obama appears as an effective messenger to combat these panic-based ploys. In the appeasement spat this past week, Obama forcefully declared:

They aren’t telling you the truth. They are trying to fool you and scare you because they can’t win a foreign policy debate on the merits. But it’s not going to work. Not this time, not this year.

The aggressive push-back reframes the issue: casting the Republicans as policy-deficient while branding their playbook old politics. The former seizes upon the overwhelming majority (82% of the public) that believes the country is on the wrong track, while the latter fits into Obama’s central campaign theme. Also, repeated use of fear-mongering has blunted its effectiveness, evidenced by the Republicans’ slipping national security advantage since 2006.

Herein lies McCain’s challenge ahead.  A burning desire for change presently exists, and Obama fulfills that want.  McCain, slapped with an “R”, cannot significantly encroach into Obama’s territory.  The appetite for experience exists, but needs to be whetted further for McCain to have a chance at winning.  McCain must run a campaign of convincing, one emphasizing the need for experience.  His campaign’s success hinges on this message’s persuasiveness.   

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Roundup: The Day After

May 7, 2008

Via The Page, Hillary said today, “It’s still early…. This is a dynamic electoral environment.” Forty-seven contests in, and she characterizes the race as “early.” Mathematical reality has solidified, and she calls the race “dynamic.” There is a clear disconnect here, bordering on ridiculous.

What’s Hillary’s rationale for continuing?  Dianne Feinstein, a California Senator and Clinton-backer, wants an answer.

Combined, Clinton and Obama received 300,000 more votes in Indiana than Kerry did in ’04. Look at a couple of polls showing Obama beating McCain there in the general, and a state Bush won by twenty could be in play this November.

Obama netted 230,000 votes from North Carolina, offsetting Hillary’s margin of victory (215,000) in Pennsylvania. By doing so, he dismantled any popular vote argument the Clintons had hoped to make.

David Plouffe sends a memo to superdelegates, hitting on electability:

It is important to note that Senator Obama leads Senator Clinton in superdelegate endorsements among Governors, United States Senators and members of the House of Representatives. These elected officials all have a keen sense for who our strongest nominee will be in November.

An excerpt from Obama’s poignant victory speech, illustrating his patriotism:

That’s why I’m in this race.  I love this country too much to see it divided and distracted at this moment in history.  I believe in our ability to perfect this union because it’s the only reason I’m standing here today.  And I know the promise of America because I have lived it.

It is the light of opportunity that led my father across an ocean.

It is the founding ideals that the flag draped over my grandfather’s coffin stands for – it is life, and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.


The Bosnia Fallout

March 26, 2008

Since the beginning of the campaign, Hillary has been viewed as the least trustworthy candidate. Up until now, that weakness was an isolated character trait, affecting primarily her personality appeal. Though after the Bosnia flap, it cripples her substantive appeal as well. The dishonesty associated with resume-padding permeates Hillary’s entire experience argument – increasing skepticism of her other claims. Essentially, her greatest weakness is undercutting her greatest strength.  That’s a dangerous development with the potential to puncture the entire campaign rationale.


Directed by Mark J. Penn

March 26, 2008

A brutal mash-up of Hillary’s initial Bosnia bravado and the actual footage:


Hillary’s Excuse: “I Was Sleep-Deprived”

March 25, 2008

Retracting her bogus claims of experiencing a harrowing scene on arrival in Bosnia, Hillary dithered, “I was sleep-deprived, and I misspoke.” So each of the countless times she recited the debunked drama, stamped a “real whopper” by the Washington Post, drowsiness prompted the concocted embellishments?

What’s worse is that Hillary’s account was challenged a week ago by the comedian Sinbad, who accompanied her on the trip. He listed the scariest moment as deciding where to eat, in a region described as “one of the safest places in Bosnia.” Yet she dismissed him as a comedian and proceeded to elevate the story’s drama, citing “landing under sniper fire” and running for safety “with our heads down.” Take a look at the clip showing her arriving in Tuzla, Bosnia:

Finally, the media is dismantling Hillary’s experience facade, shining a spotlight on her more egregious claims. See her exaggerations about bringing peace to Northern Ireland and falsehoods about negotiations in Kosovo. And her famed human rights address in China? Exactly what she chides Obama for, simply a speech.


More on the Clinton Memo

March 1, 2008

Another excerpt from the Clinton expectation-setting memo released today:

In fact, when all is totaled, Senator Obama and his allies have outspent Senator Clinton by a margin of $18.4 million to $9.2 million on advertising in the four states that are voting next Tuesday.

Senator Obama has campaigned hard in these states. He has spent time meeting editorial boards, courting endorsers, holding rallies, and – of course – making speeches.

If he cannot win all of these states with all this effort, there’s a problem.

Balderdash. One candidate has been in the public sphere for sixteen years, establishing a personality entrenched in the electorate’s mind. Another has been on the national scene for a relatively short time, and has yet to present himself to the voters. Obama started out behind – down by more than twenty points in Texas and Ohio – but has managed to close the gap.

Flip the argument around. Hillary has obviously also campaigned hard in Texas and Ohio, has sent out negative mail in both states, has the support of Ohio Governor Ted Strickland and his political machine, and has the endorsements of nine congressmen from March 4th states. If she cannot win all of these states with all this effort, there’s a problem.

Spin should, at the minimum, have its foundation in logic. However, the Clintons’ increasingly desperate spin is an utterly inane interpretation of the political landscape.


One For Four Is A Victory?

February 29, 2008

The Clinton campaign tries to move the goal posts forward, but they’re already at the back of the end zone.  In the latest fanciful memo, the campaign says about the March 4th states, “If [Obama] cannot win all of these states with all this effort, there’s a problem.”  Really, does a Clinton win in Rhode Island alone give her the prerogative to continue? 

Regardless of Hillary’s wishful thinking, Bill Clinton himself set the stakes when he said, “If she doesn’t win Texas and Ohio, I don’t think she can get the nomination.”  Here’s the full memo:

To: Interested Parties

From: The Clinton Campaign

Date: Friday, February 29, 2008

RE: Obama Must-Wins

The media has anointed Barack Obama the presumptive nominee and he’s playing the part.

With an eleven state winning streak coming out of February, Senator Obama is riding a surge of momentum that has enabled him to pour unprecedented resources into Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont.

The Obama campaign and its allies are outspending us two to one in paid media and have sent more staff into the March 4 states. In fact, when all is totaled, Senator Obama and his allies have outspent Senator Clinton by a margin of $18.4 million to $9.2 million on advertising in the four states that are voting next Tuesday.

Senator Obama has campaigned hard in these states. He has spent time meeting editorial boards, courting endorsers, holding rallies, and – of course – making speeches.

If he cannot win all of these states with all this effort, there’s a problem.

Should Senator Obama fail to score decisive victories with all of the resources and effort he is bringing to bear, the message will be clear:

Democrats, the majority of whom have favored Hillary in the primary contests held to date, have their doubts about Senator Obama and are having second thoughts about him as a prospective standard-bearer.