Thursday, September 18, 2008

another momentum change?

The polls have picked up a slight reversal of fortunes with Obama now back essentially where he was before the conventions (a two-or-three point lead) and McCain's convention bounce apparently used up. In itself this is not a particular cause for alarm: polls always go up and down and the number of undecideds remains unusually high. What may be of greater concern are the reasons, or apparent reasons, for the change.

The first reason is the dissipation of the "Palin effect," which is partially unavoidable but also reflects a missed opportunity by the McCain camp. After the convention I suggested that the Republicans had missed a chance to capitalize on Palin's popularity and announce a genuine reform agenda, including school choice, an overhaul of the tax system, new approaches to energy and health care, and other issues that might have created a wider, deeper change coalition. Instead, the Party chose a "resume" strategy, emphasizing the candidates' personal qualities and eschewing more detailed proposals Now, it seems, they are beginning to pay the price.

The second is the budding financial crisis, which has put the lack of a clear economic program in sharper focus, as well as calling attention to the failures of the Bush Administration.

What is frustrating about this is that the announcing of a reform agenda is usually one of the easiest things for a campaign. There are briefing books full of these things, and they don't have to make it through Congress--or have any realistic chance to--in order to influence an election. The problem, I think, is an internal one: McCain continues to campaign in the shadow of the hard Republican right that would likely be offended by one or more reform proposals. But with Palin at his side there is slim likelihood they would abandon him. What then is he waiting for?


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