Obama must focus on the economy, a topic that continues to vex Americans. On September 14th, Former Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan said, "This is 'by far' the worst economic crisis he has ever seen." Voters want to know whether Obama or McCain will provide the leadership required to correct our economic woes.
While those of us who are familiar with the economic policies of the two candidates regard the Illinois Senators' approach as the more thoughtful, 53 percent of voters see only one (false) reality: Obama will raise their taxes. Obviously, the Illinois Senator has to do a better job communicating his economic plans, particularly his intent to reduce taxes for 95 percent of Americans.
On September 16th, Obama took the unusual step of placing a two-minute ad in battleground states. This emphasizes five points: middle-class tax cuts, Wall Street regulation, Energy "made in America," restrictions on lobbyists, and an end to the war in Iraq. Obama concludes that partisan politics won't fix the economy, "but a new spirit of unity and shared responsibility will."
Obama must take steps to ensure his message resonates with Independents. Since the end of the conventions, Democrats and Republicans have coalesced around their candidates. However, Independents roughly 35 percent of the electorate have swung towards McCain: a September 14th Greenberg-Quinlan-Rosner poll found the Arizona Senator led Obama by 10 percentage points among Independents.
Digging deeper into the GQR poll, most of this movement was due to a shift of older voters. After the Republican convention, Obama trailed McCain by 27 points among white men over 65 and 14 points among white women of the same age range. While some of this gain may erode as Palin-mania fades and the recession worsens, the reality is that Obama has had a problem with older voters throughout much of his campaign. They don't resonate as much with his change message as do younger voters. Voters over 65 tend to believe McCain is more qualified to be President because he has "paid his dues." They use age as proxy for judgment.
There are three things that Obama can do to close this age gap. One is to enlist the active support of former President Bill Clinton, who historically has been a favorite of older voters. Clinton says he'll campaign for Obama and his help would be particularly advantageous in battleground states such as Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. A second tactic would be for Obama to continue to describe McCain as "out of touch" and tie him to failed Bush policies. This approach would not emphasize the Arizona Senator's age, but rather the reality that McCain "doesn't get it" because he's a member of a privileged elite and therefore insulated from the problems that beset average Americans: he doesn't worry about meeting a monthly mortgage payment because he is so wealthy that he has eight houses. The other thing that would help Obama is victory over McCain in the September 26th Presidential debate on national security, an area where McCain-at least on paper would appear to have an advantage because his military and congressional experience. A decisive Obama debate win would help convince older voters that he is prepared to lead the U.S.
Obama must also tailor his campaign to address the concerns of white women. Although the Illinois Senator has solidified Democratic women won back most of the hard-core Hillary Clinton supporters he hasn't done enough to attract Independent white women. The GQR poll showed the Palin "bounce" appears to have occurred primarily among women; in this segment, Obama went from even with McCain to behind by double digits.
The Obama campaign should resist the temptation to attack Sarah Palin as unprepared to be President in the likely event that McCain dies in office. This will be perceived as a sexist attack and divert attention from the head of the Republican ticket, John McCain. Rather, Obama must clarify his plans to help women: ensuring pay equity; providing tax-relief for working families; guaranteeing affordable healthcare; fully funding "No Child Left Behind" and providing federal support for early-childhood education; and expanding "access to contraception, health information and preventive services to help reduce unintended pregnancies."
To make his case to white women of all ages and circumstances, Obama must make better use of Hillary Clinton. She can be a powerful ally if used effectively. She could help Obama address the specific concerns of older women, including Social Security, college tuition for their children, and retirement security.
Even though the presidential contest is close, Barack Obama can win if he takes full advantage of his strategic assets: he has a better plan for the economy and he provides more tangible support for seniors and women.