A McCain Recalculation?

August 23, 2008

Will the Biden pick cause McCain to recalibrate his vice-presidential compass? Mark Halperin previously reported that the Republican nominee had “settled” on Mitt Romney, but Obama’s selection may nudge Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty back into contention.

McCain might want a form of economic ballast to counterweight Biden’s humble background; picking Romney would only widen the wealth chasm between the two tickets. Pawlenty, a man of modest means, advocates Sam’s Club Republicanism, a working-class philosophy much more palatable to Reagan Democrats than Romney’s country-club conservatism.

Romney’s supporters tout his economic fluency, but there’s no evidence that the Bain Capital founder ever connected to voters on bread-and-butter issues. In the Republican primaries, voters who considered the economy the most important issue actually preferred McCain. On the other hand, Pawlenty has a proven ability to empathize with lower-income voters, aided by his blue-collar background.


More on Energy

August 12, 2008

During last week’s tire gauge brouhaha, McCain dismissed Obama’s advice to regularly check tire pressure as a measure incapable of achieving much.  As an alternative, the Arizona senator offered his standard solution – drill, drill, drill – a policy earning the unanimous criticism of economists.  McCain’s myopic focus on supply-side fixes overlooks the frothiness currently swirling around on the demand side.

By reducing demand, consumers can slash energy costs in the immediate future without sacrificing quality of life.  And, the government can encourage conservation with programs palatable to both the left and right.  Take the efforts of Southern California Edison, which gave customers an Ambient Orb, a floating ball that glowed red when energy use was high but green when consumption was modest.  Within weeks, electricity use plunged by forty percent among the Orb’s users.  These results derived from purely voluntary action by the households, with no government mandate or regulation.  Extrapolate these figures to the entire nation to realize the potential magnitude of demand reductions.

Tire-Gauges Work

August 5, 2008

Michael Grunwald drives a dagger through the conservatives’ tire-gauge mockery:

But who’s really out of touch? The Bush Administration estimates that expanded offshore drilling could increase oil production by 200,000 bbl. per day by 2030. We use about 20 million bbl. per day, so that would meet about 1% of our demand two decades from now. Meanwhile, efficiency experts say that keeping tires inflated can improve gas mileage 3%, and regular maintenance can add another 4%. Many drivers already follow their advice, but if everyone did, we could immediately reduce demand several percentage points. In other words: Obama is right.

The real problem with the attacks on his tire-gauge plan is that efforts to improve conservation and efficiency happen to be the best approaches to dealing with the energy crisis — the cheapest, cleanest, quickest and easiest ways to ease our addiction to oil, reduce our pain at the pump and address global warming. It’s a pretty simple concept: if our use of fossil fuels is increasing our reliance on Middle Eastern dictators while destroying the planet, maybe we ought to use less.

And, contrary to the Republicans’ talking points, these efficiency measures constitute concrete proposals with immediate benefits:

But things like tire gauges can reduce gas bills and carbon emissions now, with little pain and at little cost and without the ecological problems and oil-addiction problems associated with offshore drilling. These are the proverbial win-win-win solutions, reducing the pain of $100 trips to the gas station by reducing trips to the gas station. And Americans are already starting to adopt them, ditching SUVs, buying hybrids, reducing overall gas consumption. It’s hard to see why anyone who isn’t affiliated with the oil industry would object to them.


August 4, 2008

McCain freezes:

Ratchets up anticipation for the debates, doesn’t it?  While this video hasn’t gained much traction beyond the blogosphere, picture another blankout moment with an audience north of 65 million–many already queasy about McCain’s age.

But why remain passive until the debates?  A 527 could build a narrative attacking McCain’s age, compiling a series of clips, like the one above, into a devastating (and mostly silent) minute-long spot.  Lodge that “senior” perception into the public’s subconscious and wait for McCain himself to substantiate the charge on a national stage.  The more the senator’s stumbles confirm what the 527s try to push, the more damaging they become.

What a Bounce!

June 20, 2008

Obama opens up a fifteen point lead in the latest Newsweek poll, buoyed by the shifting party sentiments:

55 percent of all voters call themselves Democrats or say they lean toward the party while just 36 percent call themselves Republicans or lean that way.

Yowzers!  Couple this with statistical models granting Obama an average of 343.8 electoral votes, and this election may turn into a landslide.

Congressional Artifice

June 10, 2008

In 2004, Republicans used their control of Congress to embarrass Kerry into a series of missed votes. The Massachusetts senator would frequently trek to the Capitol for a scheduled vote, only to discover that the vote had been postponed. Kerry’s legislative record, or lack of one, became a centerpiece for Republican attack fodder. Democrats should pursue a similar strategy during this election cycle.

McCain, a longtime advocate for climate change initiatives, recently missed a vote on a landmark emissions regulation bill in order to hold a private fundraiser. The issue passed without much attention, as Obama was considering skipping the vote as well. Neither senator has an exemplary attendance record with each one racking up hundreds of missed votes while on the campaign trail.

However, the Democrats could schedule a series of votes designed to force McCain to choose between two options: appealing to independents or satisfying the queasy conservative base. Schedule a vote on McCain’s original immigration bill, a piece of legislation he now opposes, and stamp him as a flip-flopper. Bring up a campaign finance reform vote, both reigniting McCain’s past sparks with the base and broadcasting his reversal on the issue. These attacks also penetrate the McCain brand itself, stripping away the straight talk facade and revealing the Flipflop Transit.

Combine these votes with those of the utmost importance and schedule them successively on the same day.  That way, Obama could easily attend the daily session, while McCain would grope in vain for an excuse to shirk his senatorial duties.

If Congressional Democrats pursue this strategy, they will help to continue a streak stretching back to the nation’s founding: no sitting minority senator has ever won the presidency.

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.