On Eve of Debate, a Strategy for McCain…
As Senators John McCain and Barack Obama prepare for Tuesday’s debate, the most recent polls show this debate a must-win for Mr McCain: Mr Obama’s campaign has the momentum with just a month to go before Americans go to the polls and leads McCain in virtually every survey recently conducted.
What can Senator McCain do to stem the tide and reverse some of Senator Obama’s recent gains? Plenty:
- Start with an obvious avenue of attack: Senator Joe Biden’s own opinion of Mr Obama, as expressed during the Primary campaign. Senator Obama’s running mate had this to say about the Presidential candidate he now shares a ticket with:
- “I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.”
- On Afghanistan, Biden’s campaign released this at the time: “It’s good to see Sen. Obama has finally arrived at the right position, but this can hardly be considered bold leadership.”
- “Would I make a blanket commitment to meet unconditionally with the leaders of each of those countries [Iran, et al] within the first year I was elected President? Absolutely, positively no.” (Contrary to what Mr Biden now says, Senator Obama did indeed state he would meet unconditionally with Ahmadinejad).
- “I think he can be ready, but right now I don’t believe he is. The presidency is not something that lends itself to on-the-job training.”
- On Obama’s plan for withdrawing from Iraq: “My impression is [Obama] thinks that if we leave, somehow the Iraqis are going to have an epiphany” of peaceful coexistence among warring sects. “I’ve seen zero evidence of that.”
- Next up, Senator McCain needs to attack Senator Obama (and Senator Biden, too) on earmarks and pork-barrel spending, and on this issue, McCain has the opportunity for a very serious body blow: Mr Obama has requested about three-quarters of a billion dollars in earmarks and pet projects during his three years in office. Add in Mr Biden’s one-third of a billion this year alone, and the numbers are shocking against Senator McCain’s history of never having asked for an earmark during his long Senate career. This should particularly play well in the current economic climate: it’s unlikely the American people have much stomach for lavish government spending at a time when they find themselves tightening their financial belt buckles more than a notch or two.
- The geo-political card should have been Senator McCain’s trump card all along, and Mr McCain needs to get back on message here. He can do so by drawing attention to the agreement Russia and Venezuela recently signed whereby Russia has agreed to provide a loan for the equivalent of one billion dollars to Venezuela for a military/techincal co-operation program. Two Russian Tu-160 long-range strategic bombers also recenty landed in Venezuela, and the countries have agreed to hold joint naval exercises before the year is up. Senator McCain can point to his recent stance on Russia’s invasion of Georgia at a time Senator Obama opted not to interrupt his Hawaiian vacation to respond.
- In general, Senator McCain needs to press Senator Obama, and press him hard: Mr Obama does not do so well under pressure and without an adoring crowd, and when pressed he often stumbles – his speech becomes very halting as he struggles to find the right way to position his answer. That’s not the mark of a person who knows his positions; rather it’s the mark of a person who knows how his positions should be perceived.
- Press the “change” issue: in Senator Obama’s short Senate tenure, he’s been anything but a change agent, and has instead obediently voted along party lines. Mr Obama has no history to speak of involving reaching across party lines or defying his party.
- Senator Obama will seek to continue to paint Senator McCain as “Bush Revisited”. The counter-attack to that is simple: the only thing more unpopular than Bush is the Democratic Senate. Mr McCain needs to start painting Mr Obama as an extension of that unpopular legislative body. Pointing out that Senator Obama’s party has had the majority for some time now and have chosen to do not much of anything should be an effective line of attack.
- Recently, Governor Palin has attacked Senator Obama’s links to William Ayers, the former member of the Weathermen, the group which bombed the Pentagon, the Capitol Building and various police cars etc. Senator McCain would do well to continue to press Senator Obama on his associations: his links to convicted felon Antoin Rezko (Mr Obama’s first political donor and former neighbour; prosecutors of Mr Rezko have requested a sentencing delay and it’s rumored Mr Rezko is on the verge of spilling the beans on corruption in Illinois politics), his twenty-year attendance at the church of Reverend Wright and Mr Obama’s ties to big-money in Washington (Senator Obama’s campaign donations from big money dwarf those Senator McCain (or even Senator Clinton) have received, as we wrote previously).
- Take the focus off the economy. One easy way to do so is to point out to Senator Obama that there’s only so much influence the government has on the economy in what’s ostensibly a free market, as vividly demonstrated by the impotence of the recent bailout bill. Senator McCain should take a page out of history and point out that the more an economy is managed, the poorer the results for the people – that’s also been very vividly demonstrated in the twentieth century. Follow up, hard, on Governor Palin’s recent message that government is not the solution to every problem but more often is the cause.
- Refer to Mr Obama as “Senator Obama”. It makes Mr Obama’s somehow jarring familiarity at using “John” for Mr McCain seem all the more odd – like calling one’s father by his first name as a child.
In short, Senator McCain needs to come out swinging and put his younger, less experienced opponent on the defensive. Mr McCain has kept himself rather in check thus far. If he plans to close the gap between the two campaigns, now is the time to come out swinging.