The current breathless “Sarah Palin Watch” going on in the mainstream and not-so-mainstream media is one of those political phenomena where the accuracy of her claims doesn’t really matter to those outside the chattering class. That’s because it’s not so much what she says as the image she projects. But that image has to project a certain something with keywords directed to the political base and swing voters (at this point in the game, swing voters are about 21% of the electorate and they have a high opinion of both McCain/Palin and Obama/Biden).
If you had a chance to see Palin’s big debut at the Republican convention, it’s clear she can throw a punch with a red meat speech written for her. However, one thing that’s not too clear (well, not to casual political watchers) is Palin’s inside-the-Beltway political tactics regarding allegations of abuse of power as governor of Alaksa. The so-called “Troopergate” scandal (can we get away from attaching “gate” to political scandals?), and her behind-the-scenes maneuverings to gum up the investigation give us a glimpse of what a McCain administration would be like if Sarah is part of the day-to-day business of governing in the White House. However, because Republicans are masters at changing the political narrative, we’ll have to wait to see how this plays out in the future. In the meantime, it’s an out-and-out hard sell for the hearts and minds of swing voters.
The latest polling indicates that 42% of the electorate are committed to Barack Obama, and 37% are committed to John McCain, so now you see what the game is: make sure your base of support is motivated to show up on voting day, and lure as many swing voters as you can. The 5% difference in committed votes between the candidates means they have to hustle and speak to those who are on the fence. What do the fence sitters want to hear the candidates talk about? The expression “It’s the economy, stupid” is pretty much front and center. Forget “Hockey mom,” or “Executive experience” for swing voters; candidates have to convince them that they can address their concerns.
What are swing voters concerned about? Pretty much the same thing as the majority of the electorate:
â€¢ The lack of good paying jobs
â€¢ The real estate mess
â€¢ The high cost of oil
â€¢ The amazingly high cost of health care
What did the Republicans mostly talk about at their convention last week?
â€¢ The torture John McCain endured in Vietnam
â€¢ How Barack Obama was “just a community organizer” and has no executive experience
â€¢ Tax cuts
â€¢ Sexism (But only against Sarah Palin)
â€¢ Liberal media
Now, to be fair, the war in Iraq and terrorism are on the minds of swing voters (and McCain gets higher marks on his ability to handle both than Obama), but the way in which the McCain campaign ignores bread and butter issues is astonishing. On the one hand, we’ve got Palin’s head-scratcher of a remark about how Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have gotten too big and expensive to taxpayers, and on the other, John McCain’s comment that “The issue of economics is not something I’ve understood as well as I should.” Taken together, one would think that, on the economy, Obama’s message would be a slam dunk, except for one thing: Obama doesn’t have a sound bite on the economy.Â Well, there was that speech where Obama mentioned the Midwestern economies that have been devastated for the past 25 years and haven’t “regenerated.”Â But the money shot for the Right was Obama’s comment about bitter people who turn to guns and religion when the good jobs evaporate. “Bitter,” “guns,” and “religion” — those are the keywords that serve as Obama’s comments on the economy in swing states.
Can you see why swing voters are on the fence? On the one hand, you’ve got a pair of Republicans who clearly don’t know their elbow from their anus when it comes the economy, and on the other, you’ve got a couple of Democrats who might be saying something about economy (i.e., it’s bad, and we’re going to make it good”), but all that gets reported is the comment about “guns and religion.”
You may be asking: “Aren’t the debates supposed to address the economic policies of each candidate?” Well, sort of. For the past year, one would think both campaigns would craft a pithy “Here’s what I’m going to do when it comes to the economy,” but what have we gotten? Not much. With the Republicans showing themselves to be less-than-able stewards on fiscal policy, and not-too-bright when it comes to economic policy, Obama and Biden have a chance to change the political conversation and regain the advantage – but the window of opportunity is closing.