Panic in the Streets

The Democratic streets, anyway, as Jim Wooten writes:

Democrats know something, and desperation is setting in. They have a novice campaigner who wanders off message. With every advantage in the primaries, Obama couldn’t win the big states — New York, New Jersey, Ohio and Pennsylvania — against Hillary Clinton, even when he got to define the rules for running against him. She could never risk alienating the base she’ll need in 2012; John McCain and Sarah Palin have no such constraints — hence the panic.

For a “change” candidate, Obama appears to be a man locked in time, unable to move past criticism, unable to move from the grip of the Democratic left, unable to adapt to the changed reality that the campaign is not the referendum on the war in Iraq or on the administration of George W. Bush that he’d envisioned. …

The Democratic left is still seething from the Kerry campaign’s loss and is determined to see Bush expelled from the White House in disgrace — the reason it is locked in to making this a referendum on the administration now ending.

It barely worked when the maverick McCain, no darling of the Bushites, got the nomination. With Palin, the Washington outsider, the “third term” argument is plainly absurd. But Obama can’t let go, just as the lefties can’t let go of the Swiftboat Veterans for Truth defeat of Kerry. He can’t move on. …

Obama will lose because with less than two months remaining voters won’t be able to get comfortable with him. He can’t stay on message and he can’t avoid sending signals that interfere with the message when he does.

That’s right, I think. No doubt surprises are in store between now and November, and we are witnessing an unprecedented effort by the national press to drag their candidate across the finish line at all costs. But the only events between now and November that are foreseeably likely to change the momentum of the race are the debates, and Obama is a bad debater. When he is not reading from a teleprompter, he is hesitant, often incoherent, and prone to gaffes that, if people are paying attention, may make him a laughingstock. So there is good reason for the panic that is now spreading among Democrats.

PAUL adds: I see it a little differently. The momentum in favor of McCain might well be changed if Obama simply gets back on message. There are reasons why he was leading until recently, and they mostly have to do with the perception that an adminstration McCain generally supported was bad for the country. I don’t assume Obama will fail to return to this theme and avoid distractions.

If McCain’s momentum is stopped (not even reversed, just stopped), the race will remain close until the debates. I agree with John that McCain has the edge in the debates. He’s been answering questions from reporters non-stop for almost a year-and-a-half; Obama’s view on questions from reporters is that eight is enough. In addition, McCain can project an authenticity that Obama will be very hard-pressed to match.

But debates are unpredictable; there’s a long history of pre-debate favorities coming out second best. One mistake can determine the outcome, and anyone can make a mistake.

Assuming Obama gets back to his basic anti-Republican message, and assuming the debates don’t produce a clear victor, the election probably will be decided in the final week or two when swing voters figure out which scares them more, another Republican administration or an inexperienced leftist Democrat in the White House. For these voters, it may be a close call.

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