In an earlier essay I argued that Barack Obama would be a more formidable Democratic candidate for president than Hillary Clinton, because of his demonstrable ability to attract independent voters and because he does not have the high negatives that attach to Senator Clinton. If the polls can be believed, even many Republicans say they “like” Senator Obama.
Now, John McCain has emerged as the Republican nominee. Assuming Obama secures the Democratic nomination, how might he fare against Senator McCain?
The odds are fifty-fifty, at best.
First, a number of Obama’s victories were in states that held caucuses, where the small number of voters who participated is not representative of those states’ far larger voting age population. And in other states his support was often concentrated in cities and university towns.
This does not suggest that he will have an easy time moving Republican “red” states into his electoral column. In fact, it looks like a fairly standard Democrat/Republican contest.
Second, John McCain has demonstrated that he can compete for those independent, swing voters.
Third, John McCain is not Hillary Clinton, and is unlikely to repeat the mistakes of her campaign.
Senator Clinton clearly did not see Senator Obama coming until it was too late. Senator McCain will come to the fight ready. He is already on the offensive.
Finally, John McCain will work his far greater experience than Obama to his advantage. Obama supporters who think that his victory over Clinton, if it comes, has laid the experience issue to rest, need to think again.
Senator Clinton has endlessly reminded voters that she has far greater experience than Senator Obama, but she has done a surprisingly poor job of explaining the importance of that experience to the success of a presidency.
McCain has already begun that task.
Obama has said forcefully that he is ready, eager to meet with leaders whose countries’ interests are presently at odds with those of the United States, or who are openly hostile to the United States. He clearly believes that his considerable personal and communications skills, backed by the sincerity of his intentions, will make these meetings productive. He has immense self confidence.
McCain has called this naïve, suggesting that at the very least an agenda for any such meetings must be established. Obama will back off his statements and concede the point, at some point suggesting that of course there would need to be some prior meeting or discussion at a lower level before the top guy goes in. He’ll say that everybody knew that’s what he meant. But, it isn’t.
McCain will go further to contrast himself to Obama, turning his age and experience to advantage. There is no point in backing off that one.
McCain will observe that when he was Obama’s age and younger, he had a similar passion to serve his country, and embarked on a career in the U.S. Navy. And the navy, recognizing his particular gifts – keen eyesight, quick thinking and great reflexes - made him a pilot, but not an admiral.
McCain will suggest that the two and a half years that Obama has served in the U.S. Senate do not qualify his as commander-in-chief of all the armies and navies and armed forces of the United States, and leader of the free world.