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The good news about Obama's drop in the polls is that the people who shifted their support to McCain in the past month belong to that special class of the electorate known as The Swing Voters.  Swing Voters are people who---unlike you or me---really can be persuaded to vote for either a Democrat or a Republican.  Their support for either candidate is always very tenuous.  Barack Obama has plenty of time to win them back.  Whichever way they happen to be leaning at this point is irrelevant.  It is during the last three weeks of October that Obama needs to win them over.  As the man has said over and over, he is a good learner.  Here are a few of the things he needs to learn in order to win in November and win big...

It is absolutely crucial that we Democrats come to understand the Swing Voters as a group.  These people are essentially "headline readers" & "sound byte nibblers."  When they see in the headlines that Candidate A accused Candidate B of having a certain personality defect, they tend to believe it.  (Unless it is effectively answered.)  That is why negative campaigning [=character assassination] is so effective with these people.

While Democrats knock themselves out every election cycle trying to talk to Swing Voters about The Issues, Republican strategists calmly focused their attention on winning The Image Campaign.  The Issues might actually be important to many Swing Voters early on in a political campaign, but when both sides start to pick apart each other’s facts & interpretations, the typical Swing Voter quickly becomes confused.  As the debate over The Issues drags on, Swing Voters realize that they don’t understand the details well enough to make an informed decision, so they end up relying on their impressions of the candidates.

Republican strategists see this clearly.  That is why they continuously try to create doubts in the minds of the Swing Voters about the character of the Democratic candidate.  They know that it doesn’t really matter if they can’t find any real flaws in their Democratic opponents.  Accusations, insinuations, & innuendo will work just fine.  They hope to encourage voters to question the motivation and dependability of The Democrats.  They try to create the perception that Democrats are "defective" in a disturbing way.  They know that by accusing , they are able to suggest to Swing Voters that they are not [defective like the Democrats].

The most important reason why negative campaigning has worked so well for the Republicans is because their negative attacks on the Democrats create a positive impression of Republican candidates, who appear—in contrast—to be individuals who do not possess the defects that they have accused others of having.  They define themselves [positively] by defining their Democratic opponents [negatively].

On a visceral level, what the Republicans actually "stand for" in the minds of Swing Voters on election day is that they are not Democrats—those defective people who seem to have been born to ruin everything.  It’s simple, really.  By bashing Democrats, Republicans present themselves as the desirable alternative.  Negative character attacks also provide the Republicans with one more benefit.  They know that the media will give priority coverage to their personal attacks, distracting attention away from any of the "substance" blather that Democrats always like to talk about.

Barack Obama will only win in November if he comes to fully appreciate the role that EMOTION always plays in winning over the Swing Vote.  Just ask yourself why it is that the word "Liberal" acquired the negative connotation that it has today?  The answer is: the Republicans created that negative connotation by repeatedly expressing scorn and derision whenever they used the word to describe their Democratic opponents.  They expressed disgust for anyone who would be foolish enough to be such a person.

Whenever politicians express strongly felt emotions, Swing Voters tend to grant them a greater measure of authenticity.  After all, why else would McCain be so upset?)  Just think of the times when Republicans laugh at Democrats.  They don’t just laugh in a way that shows they have a good sense of humor; they laugh in a way that communicates their contempt for Democrats.

It’s not the words we use, Democrats; it’s the emotions we show when we use particular words.  Consider the phony outrage that Lynne & Dick Cheney expressed after the third debate four years ago.  At a time when it was crucial for Kerry to continue to build momentum after a solid debate performance, his advisors ended up losing the post-debate spin.  They lost it because they didn’t understand how crucial Kerry’s response would be and they didn’t understand how a candidate absolutely must respond to an Angry Outrage Performance if she wants to win.

The big story that Swing Voters saw on TV the next day (those who didn’t watch the debate) was that the Cheneys were really angry that Kerry had called their daughter a lesbian on national TV.  What turned this into a home run for the Republicans was Kerry’s unfortunate response; a written statement that sounded a lot like an apology.  The overall impression this gave to Swing Voters was that Kerry had apparently done some "dirty politicking."  Then, after the Cheneys apparently called him on it, he offered [what sounded like] a weak apology and then tried to change the subject ['let's get back to talking about the Issues'].

Whenever Democratic candidates are the target of a Republican politician’s expressed ANGER, it is crucial that they respond properly if they want to win The Image Campaign.  Impressions formed during such confrontations are usually remembered on voting day.  John Kerry should have responded emotionally by calling for a televised press conference, and then using the spotlight to laugh at the Cheneys’ phony display of anger.  Laughter is the appropriate emotion for a candidate to feel and express when he is guilty of no wrongdoing whatsoever.  After laughing at the Cheneys, Kerry would then have been able to focus the media’s attention on the real story, which was/is the clever manipulations and deceptions that the Republicans always use to mislead voters.

Anyone remember what Karen Hughes did to Al Gore in 2000 with the same kind of expressions of emotion (outrage, indignation)?

With this kind of response, Kerry would have told the Swing Voters how they should respond to the reports they’re hearing.  That is to say, he needed to model the response that he wanted the Swing Voters to have.  The Republicans do this all the time.  (Human Nature 101: people depend on you to tell them how to perceive you.)  Also, holding a press conference would have given Kerry an opportunity to enjoy the humor of the situation with the members of the media who were present (it encourages the media to have a favorable impression of you as a candidate).  In his initial remarks to the press, he would have wanted to smile broadly, shake his head, and express mild but sincere amusement at the Cheneys’ performance.  Then, he would have wanted to review with good-humored stabs of ridicule the many times that the Cheneys had, themselves, mentioned their daughter’s lesbianism to the public.

After dismissing the phony outrage in this way, Kerry should then have seized the opportunity to get on a soapbox and explain how this incident illustrates the great threat that The Cunning Republicans represent to the average American.  In a more serious tone, he could have taken the time to explain what the Cheneys were doing and why they were doing it (& how it was a classic example of the conniving sort-of-thing that the Republicans always do to win elections).  He could have turned the whole episode into a complete disaster for the Republicans by focusing attention—with first hand evidence—on the characteristic duplicity of Republican politicians.  Swing Voters would have perceived that John Kerry appeared to be innocent of wrongdoing because he showed no fear in the face of the Cheneys’ anger.

One more thing I think Barack Obama needs to work out in his mind...  Whenever he expresses his respect for John McCain, he models the kind of respect that McCain wants the Swing Voters to have of him.  Every time McCain models disrespect for Barack Obama, he is telling the Swing Voters how they should perceive Barack Obama.  This stuff works.  My instinct would be to show only a token, passing comment of respect for McCain's service, but then be quite articulate in showing how little respect every American should have for John McCain's tactics [and his profound lack of intelligence].  I'm sure that if there is a better way to achieve the same goal, Barack will find it...

The Republican Nemesis

Originally posted to James Kroeger on Wed Aug 20, 2008 at 09:49 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Come on Barack... (9+ / 0-)

    You can win the Image Campaign.  Think it out...

    •  I expect that Obama and the (0+ / 0-)

      Democratic campaign will come out swinging in the next week or so.
      One approach that might work well is to have the VP candidate do most of the bashing, while Obama presents a positive, issues-oriented "can-do" message.

      Another Democrat against McCain

      by NWSteve on Wed Aug 20, 2008 at 09:59:49 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Great analysis (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      One more thing I think Barack Obama needs to work out in his mind...  Whenever he expresses his respect for John McCain, he models the kind of respect that McCain wants the Swing Voters to have of him.  Every time McCain models disrespect for Barack Obama, he is telling the Swing Voters how they should perceive Barack Obama.  This stuff works.

      Very much true. Obama gets no brownie points for being deferential. Like you say, he needs to hammer the 'What happened to that guy!?' line, pointing out what McCain has become..

  •  I could in no way agree more (0+ / 0-)

    Polls are less than useless for this demographic and this is too soon to be measuring.

    "The guy has no core. He likes to call his campaign the 'straight talk express.' We call it the 'forked tongue express.'" - Bob Haney (GOP)

    by DiegoUK on Wed Aug 20, 2008 at 09:51:05 AM PDT

  •  Seems to Me Obama Has Made the Pivot the Clinton (0+ / 0-)

    and media people all told him to make.

    Away from emotion, onto policy specifics. I just saw a couple minutes of him live on CNN and it was all very specific.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Wed Aug 20, 2008 at 09:52:12 AM PDT

  •  Imagine..... (0+ / 0-)

    Imagine there's no heaven
    It's easy if you try
    No hell below us
    Above us only sky
    Imagine all the people
    Living for today...

    Imagine there's no countries
    It isn't hard to do
    Nothing to kill or die for
    And no religion too
    Imagine all the people
    Living life in peace...

    You may say I'm a dreamer
    But I'm not the only one
    I hope someday you'll join us
    And the world will be as one

    Imagine no possessions
    I wonder if you can
    No need for greed or hunger
    A brotherhood of man
    Imagine all the people
    Sharing all the world...

    You may say I'm a dreamer
    But I'm not the only one
    I hope someday you'll join us
    And the world will live as one

    John Lennon

    It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment. Ansel Adams -6.5 -6.75

    by Statusquomustgo on Wed Aug 20, 2008 at 09:53:49 AM PDT

  •  One question (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Anne Elk

    if Obama led by 6 to 10 points a few weeks ago, now McCain is leading, what makes it a given that there will not be another swing in the polls next month? I think what I am trying to point out is we are not even at the Conventions yet, not even Labor Day, and more than 2 months from election day. Enjoy your summer.

    You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war..... Albert Einstein,

    by tazz on Wed Aug 20, 2008 at 09:56:22 AM PDT

  •  Likewise to the emotion of the word liberal (0+ / 0-)

    when people hear the word Bush they think of corruption, incompetence, stupidity, crimninal behavior and nightmare. Now we need to link Bush and McCain as one.

    "Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we." GWB

    by thefretgenie on Wed Aug 20, 2008 at 09:56:35 AM PDT

  •  I think the polls show more of.. (0+ / 0-)

    McBush solidifying his Republican base rather than getting swing voters...

    Obama/Whoever He Chooses '08 Winning Change for America and the Democratic Party

    by dvogel001 on Wed Aug 20, 2008 at 10:00:48 AM PDT

  •  According to the Zogby poll.... (0+ / 0-)

    He is losing democrats and liberals not swing voters.

  •  I keep seeing (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Anne Elk

    polls that indicate that McCain is getting more dem support by far than Obama is getting GOP support.
    I think Obama needs to solidify that 15 % of HRC supporters to take this.
    Personally, I think this group is mainly HRC supporters who want HRC to be the VP and are holding off on supporting Obama until he selects her.
    I do think when push comes to shove, these democrats will support Obama over the war-mongering,anti-choice McCain.

    •  Well, he kinda needs HRC on his ticket (0+ / 0-)

      much as folks around here don't want to hear it. The logic of the situation is pretty compelling. You bring her onto the ticket, you get her supporters. You build the strongest, most unified team you can bring. You win the election. Logic has never been the Dems strong point but the logic here is inescapable now, although it wasn't a month or so ago.

  •  He Has (0+ / 0-)

    To come out not only swinging but tough down and dirty talk. The bloomberg poll has McCain up on the Economy handling by 5 points!!

    I don't know what the hell they were thinking giving McCain a week of air time alone to pound him with little to no response. The only thing I can think of is they foolishly thought the Olympics would give them some cover.

    **Disclosure: Recovering Edwards Supporter. Switched to Obama after his drop but recent events still hurt***

    by Jeremylreed on Wed Aug 20, 2008 at 10:02:39 AM PDT

  •  As Brian said on an episode of Family Guy (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    undecided voters are the dumbest people in the world.

  •  Swing voters are morons (0+ / 0-)

    I'm seriously tired of our country being held hostage by people who have no political philosophy whatsoever.

  •  Swing voters in 2008 are complete idiots (0+ / 0-)

    I cannot understand how anyone could be undecided between Obama and McCain - there is a massive difference between them in every way.

    Either you know already or else get out of the way (or rather get a fucking education).

    Conservatism = greed, hate, fear and ignorance

    by Joe B on Wed Aug 20, 2008 at 10:03:38 AM PDT

  •  the real good news in this... (0+ / 0-)

    is that the news media will have to start covering McCain and his record.

    For example: The poll report I saw suggests disappointment that Barack flipflopped on offshore drilling. But of course, McCain did the same damn thing.

    McCain has a whole history of flip flops -- on abortion, on a new GI bill, on taxes, on lobbyists, etc, etc -- but because he's been trailing, no one has paid attention.

    let's let the focus fall on his record for a while.

    TheRamFiles: We're radical moderates, we're made as heck and we're not going to take it all that much longer.

    by ron ray on Wed Aug 20, 2008 at 10:09:00 AM PDT

    •  I think Obama's campaign... (0+ / 0-)

      ...will pick up some real traction after the debates begin, when Swing Voters will be able to evaluate the two men side-by-side.  If he gets nothing from that opportunity, then he is probably going to lose...

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