Friday, September 5, 2008

On to the Debates! -- And a Note on Compression

Let's not put the cart before the horse here, but this next two months is going to fly by. [And I thought after Labor Day, it was going to take forever to get to UGA's fall break the weekend before the election.] Think about it. Next week will be silly season in the polls as they readjust to the post-convention state of play. And then you have just two weeks until the first debate on September 26. A week ago that seemed far off, but all of a sudden, it's just three weeks away.

This really has been an unusual presidential election cycle from a timing standpoint. Primary season kicked off just three days into the new year and all the talk then was about how 2008 would be the longest general election campaign in history. It just didn't work out that way with the Democratic contest stretching into June. But now that we have been into general election mode since June, things don't look like they did in January. People are just now starting to really tune into the race and now it's not about how long the general election campaign will be, but how compressed it will be. From Tuesday at the Democratic convention to November 4 is just ten weeks.

How is that 10 weeks divided?
Democratic convention = 1 week
Republican convention/VP announcement = 1 week
Debates = 2.5 weeks (September 26-October 15)

That leaves just 5.5 weeks of actual campaigning. Now, I understand that the debates don't cause the campaign to shut down completely, but preparation time will factor in and the media's focus will shift just as quickly. [Hey, isn't this post titled, "On to the Debates!"? Who is shifting the focus here?] There are these next three weeks, the debates and then that leaves just under three weeks until election day. The span is not that different from four years ago, but with the VP announcements and conventions happening so close together it has only fed the perception of compression.*

So what will we be hearing these next three weeks? I'd imagine refined versions of what we have heard over the last two weeks. The Democrats will attempt to keep things focused on the economy and the GOP will make the case for their version of change with reminders of the importance of having the right person in charge in regard to the wars in Iraq and against terrorism. These next three weeks will be crucial to both campaigns as they hone their campaign themes heading into the conventions.

A few other things:
What was the general impression of McCain's speech last night? Sure the consensus seems to have formed around the idea that it was solid if unspectacular. Anyone differ with that assessment?

Did anyone catch Obama with Bill O'Reilly last night? I'm without FOX News Channel and haven't read too much about it today.

Also -- and this I'm sure is a shocker if not a teaser -- the Ivan Moore poll out of Alaska has shifted the Last Frontier into McCain lean territory. I think we'll continue to see it inch closer and closer to McCain/Palin as we approach election day. I'll have more Sunday when the updated Electoral College Map is up.


*Yes, this is very similar to the Seinfeld episode where Jerry and Elaine turn five more days in Florida with Jerry's parents into half a day once sleeping, trips to the airport, etc. are taken into account. Perhaps not as extreme, but similar.


Recent Posts:
Presidential Primary Reform: Still Alive with the GOP?

Why Attack the Community Organizer?

The Electoral College Map (9/3/08)

23 comments:

MSS said...

Compressed? To ten weeks?

From a comparative (cross-national) perspective, that's pretty long! In many countries, a campaign is 4 weeks or so.

SarahLawrenceScott said...

The Republican strategy has me bewildered. They seem to be simultaneously lurching toward the right and toward a "post-partisan" approach. In his first term, GWB kind of governed that way--"I'll reach across the aisle as long as you agree with me"--but as a campaign strategy I can't figure it out:

The Democrats will raise your taxes and weaken the country. The Democrats have good ideas too. Let's all applaud Bill Clinton's administration! Oh, and it's because Carter let the Iranians get out of hand that we had 9/11. Obama is a worthy and historic opponent, but our VP is better. Oh, and Obama is an elitist community organizer. Unlike him, McCain will work with the other party, because he's a fighter. And isn't adorable how the first thing Cindy and John did when they met was to lie to each other about their age? The one thing John McCain will never do is to lie to you.

Huh?

Taken together, the convention was the most mish-mashy, unfocused set of political arguments I've every seen. The tone was wildly inconsistent. Chunks of it, including chunks of McCain's speech, were effective. But what in the world is the take-home here?

I find it hard to believe this will be effective. The Republicans (oh, sorry, I mean the "McCain campaign"--they seem to be running against the corrupt Republicans) could try a targeted approach, saying different things to different audiences. But in the age of cell phones and YouTube, we've seen how well that works (e.g. bittergate).

I think they have boxed themselves way in a corner. If they try to be "Obama lite," playing up Palin's charisma, meteoric rise, outside-the-Beltway credentials, and vaguely exotic American upbringing along with McCain's maverick brand, they'll lose the head-to-head. If they fire up the base with ultra-conservative policies, they'll lose the middle. They seem to have some sort of weird calculus in mind where they fire up the base and charm the middle, but it just doesn't seem possible to me to sustain that for two months without even low-information independents smelling a rat.

Yes, I'm an Obama partisan, so maybe I just don't Get It, but...I don't get it.

Josh Putnam said...

Matthew,
Yeah, it is an incredible amount of time from the comparative perspective (...which makes the nearly two years this race has been going on seem that much more outlandish.). Americans like to get to know their candidates, to have a falling out with them and then to have a reconciliation -- a few times over -- before settling on someone.

Thank you, by the way, for the link to the third parties posts I've put up recently. I really appreciate that.

Josh Putnam said...

Scott,
Mark Shields said as much (maybe not in as heated a manner) last night during PBS's coverage after McCain's speech. And David Brooks agreed with him that there was this disjoint between these competing approaches.

It is almost jarring to see a Republican convention run that way: without strict thematic message control. This is almost a bizarro election. The Democrats are unusually disciplined in their approach while the GOP is still trying to work their way into a theme that will suit them. As David Brooks said, "They still need to work that out." And this time between now and the debates is the really the only time they have to make that sell. If they haven't settled in on something prior to the debates, they are making their task more difficult.

Robert said...

I think the McCain camp is trying to use the Bobby Bowden approach -- trickeration. With Sarah Palin he is telling the right that he is with them, but he needs to fool the moderates so he can get elected. With his speech last night and his maverick line he is telling the independents that he is really with them but he needs to fool the right so that he can get elected. The campaign also seems to be changing strategy on the ground in an attempt to get Obama to be reactive rather than proactive. They criticized Obama for no substance, and he gave a convention talk with substance. Then they changed the rules and said it was about personality and character and not about issues. As long as McCain and his "friends" can set the agenda and Obama follows along, McCain will remain competitive. Obama needs to be more proactive and find some wedges to drive between the two groups McCain is rather artfully juggling at present. The jobs situation released today is one that Obama and Biden need to jump on. They need to be setting the agenda, not the McCain campaign.

Robert said...

Jay Cost has a different view of the McCain speech than any of us. I have been impressed with his perspectives during the election so far.

http://www.realclearpolitics.com/horseraceblog/2008/09/thoughts_on_mccains_speech.html

Josh Putnam said...

This would have fit in nicely with the tenor of the discussion today, Rob. We revisited the narratives that both campaigns are using currently and came to much the same conclusion: the GOP is setting the narrative (and the agenda) at the moment.

Is that somewhat a function of the convention? Yeah, a little perhaps. But the Obama campaign can't sit on a cushion of delegates and hope to win this one.

Josh Putnam said...

Here's that link from Rob.

And here's what David Plouffe had to say in an email about the unemployment figures Rob mentioned:

"We learned just this morning that unemployment jumped to its highest rate in five years, and our economy lost 605,000 jobs this year alone -- at a time when John McCain believes that the fundamentals of our economy are "strong.""

Also, Mike Huckabee has shared his email list with McCain. My Huckabee email account started churning out McCain emails today. The timing is interesting. Why now?

Josh Putnam said...

Rob,
38.9 million people watched McCain last night, but how many of those other than Cost (and me) watched it more than once to get that same effect he describes? He makes some interesting points, but we are going to have to see how this juggling act plays out for the next few weeks.

SarahLawrenceScott said...

Here's one thing that seems different in this race from others that I remember:

The McCain campaign is completely willing to retool when things aren't going well. That was true before the primaries, it was true in mid-summer, and it was true coming into the convention.

The Obama campaign takes the long haul, and is careful not to overreact to the latest news cycle. There are shifts over time, but they feel carefully orchestrated, almost pre-planned. Only when something goes on for weeks (Rev. Wright 2 or offshore drilling) does the campaign change its stance. They do respond quickly to McCain moves, but the responses reinforce messages they've already been giving.

That makes for an interesting fight. The McCain camp thinks the penalty for switching strategies is outweighed by the flexibility it gives them. The Obama campaign figures that managing the brand is paramount. This is a fundamental difference in approach. Is it too much to think this reflects the backgrounds of the two candidates? In community organizing, a consistent message is crucial. In war, it's the ability to adapt quickly that's valued, since no plan survives contact with the enemy.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Robert said...

Josh and Scott,

Great points.

I have no plans of watching the McCain speech again. If I go back and watch any of the speeches over, it would be the ones by Obama and Palin.

I also like the comparison of the strategies of the two candidates. Your description of each makes sense.

I always hate to miss the weekly discussion. I had two annual medical exams yesterday with the appointments made before the day was changed to Friday. I plan to be back there next wee.

Allen said...

I watched the Obama/O'Reilly interview on the Fox News website. I'm sure its still there. O'Reilly was a pompous ass, as usual. More disturbingly, Obama was forced to endure it, along with other rude behavior like interruptions and arguing. While Obama's answers were thoughtful and sound, it was unfortunately not very presidential to be subjected to O'Reilly's rude behavior.

Robert said...

And then O'Reilly wonders why Democrats don't want to go on his show. He got a piece of his own medicine on Terry Gross's show, but he was very offended that anyone would challenge him.

SarahLawrenceScott said...

Interesting, Allen. You're talking about the initial 7 minute segment, right?

I thought it was great. I'm not in the least bit an O'Reilly fan, but while pompous, I didn't think he crossed the line this time. In fact, he often ended up agreeing with Obama, although not without snarky asides ("that's great if you actually follow through" type things).

And I thought it was very good for Obama. I've been concerned that he's not shown himself able to give quick, thoughtless responses to numskull questions. ("I would do whatever was necessary to protect America," delivered in a steely tone, is often a good start. Once that's out of the way, nuance and caveats can be added.) In this interview, he was much better at that, and so got out from under that professorial air he can sometimes give off.

Josh Putnam said...

Allen,
Thanks. I hadn't looked online yet. I was leaning on my loyal readers to fill me in to some extent (Ha!). I've got some time this weekend so I should be able to check it out.

In the meantime, here's the link to what's on O'Reilly's site for those interested.

Allen said...

@SarahLawrenceScott

Yes, the first segment that aired Thurs (I believe). Its my understanding the rest of the interview will be aired Mon & Tues, but don't quote me on that.

Allen said...

@josh

I hear the Obama campaign has stopped advertising in GA. Is that true? Any thoughts on that?

Josh Putnam said...

Just watched the O'Reilly segment from Thursday. He said the rest will be on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of next week. He called the remaining segments "provocative," but I suppose he and Fox would like people to tune in. I will undoubtedly oblige them...now.

Josh Putnam said...

Allen,
The Atlanta NBC affiliate confirms (via AP) that Obama has shifted the Georgia resources elsewhere.

I think that is wise. The hope of Obama doing well here was based on the idea that Bob Barr would pull some voters away from McCain. And that was dependent upon some disillusionment among the base. The Palin selection seems to have shored that up. Even before Palin though, Barr's support was modest at best.

It was always hard to see Obama doing well here. If you think of Republicanism in the South as a ripple across a lake, Georgia was among the last states the GOP penetrated on the state level. Other southern states had had GOP governors, but Georgia didn't experience that breakthrough until 2002 (the first time since Reconstruction). So from the Democrats' perspective, Georgia is at the best at its crest of Republicanism or more realistically still in the process of cresting.

Nate said it best a couple of months ago when he said that those demographic shifts won't be felt for several election cycles in some of these states. So what we are seeing in Virginia this year could stretch to North Carolina, then South Carolina, then Georgia and beyond.

Though, I would argue that South Carolina could be omitted from that discussion. The Palmetto state just doesn't have the urban/suburban growth like NC and Georgia do around Raleigh/Durham/Charlotte and Atlanta areas, respectively. The Rock Hill area just across the NC/SC border from Charlotte is the exception.

This may be a good topic to expand to its own post. I'll think about it a bit more.

Allen said...

@Josh, I agree with you. They must have initially seen something in the internals that led them to think they would make a dent. I think they had decided to target GA even before Barr entered the race, but that certainly gave them additional reasons to continue. I think they also thought new voter registrations could make a difference. In addition, they thought initially they would have a resource advantage that would allow them to contest more states. Clearly though contesting GA was not paying off in the polls, and they realized they in fact had no resource advantage when the RNC began running ads as well. It was therefore a good move to pull the plug and direct the resources to more competitive states for the last two months of the race.

Josh Putnam said...

Agreed, Allen. Voter registration was an additional layer to add in. It just wasn't/isn't happening...at least not to the levels of the Obama campaign's expectations. This is the appropriate time for them to reassess and focus resources on states that are, in fact, competitive. Georgia is closer than it might otherwise be with another Democratic nominee, but it is not within a reasonable reach with two months left.

But it is strange. Georgia was a state that I'm sure would have been considered underpolled during primary season. Then there was a stretch just after Obama clinched the nomination where the state was polled 6 times during June. Across July and August, Georgia was only polled twice; both times by Rasmussen. The average margin (with leaners) was 10 points. I suspect that the margin is around there or a little higher now, but the Peach state is back to being underpolled from the looks of it.

Allen said...

There's also an InsiderAdvantage 07/02/08, but it does look like everyone but Rasmussen stopped polling it after that. Must have decided it was not competitive. There was BTW an interesting interview with Pouffle (sp?) on Pollster where he stated that they make approx 100K(?) voter contacts each evening, looking for persuadable voters, and that is one of the primary considerations they use to decide where to focus their resources.

Josh Putnam said...

Good catch, Allen. I missed that one in my count. July 2 is in July, isn't it? I wish InAd would do another poll here just for the comparison. They likely will, but I'd assume most of their efforts will be focused on Florida and, perhaps, North Carolina.