Here it is, three days after a nationally televised honor-system "cone of silence" discussion on faith (during the Olympics), a week before the Democratic convention, and a lifetime after 2004.
The thing that strikes me is how short-sighted and shallow the "McCain won!" sentiment is. While it's true that McCain did very well Saturday, he was speaking to a receptive audience that was leaning toward him from the get-go (more on that in a moment). But McCain also made by far the two biggest gaffes of the night. He, of course, didn't arrive on time, opening him up to suspicion he cheated by listening to Obama's responses on the radio. That was totally under his control, but his chronically error-prone campaign blew that one, and now they are doing damage control.
The John McCain campaign fired off an angry letter to NBC News criticizing Andrea Mitchell's comments regarding the "cone of silence" at Saturday night's presidential candidates' forum at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California.
And his flippant answer on how rich is rich is going to haunt him. Obama:
[McCain] was in a panel the other day with me, Rick Warren, some of you may have seen it -- and Rick Warren asked him -- how do you define rich? He said, maybe he was joking, he said, "$5 million." Obama added, "Which I guess if you're making $3 million a year, you’re middle class. But that’s reflected in his policies -- where, you know, for people making more than $2.5 million, he’s giving folks a $500,000 tax break. And so this is a fundamental difference in this election. What I've said is we're gonna give 95% of working families a tax break, but it's gonna be ordinary folks."
As far as the night went, History professor Alan Lichtman notes,
"New evangelical stars such as Bill Hybels and Rick Warren, who have built associations of many thousands of churches, are less politically active than Falwell and Robertson. They are also more open to liberal ideas about civil rights, the environment, and social justice, and less inclined to back moral crusades by government, either at home or abroad." Thus through his session with Warren and other forms of outreach, Obama has an historic opportunity to make inroads into a constituency that has been overwhelmingly Republican in recent years.
Kevin Drum pointed me to this post (Cogitamus) that put it more bluntly:
I've said before that Barna Evangelicals are unreachable, so Obama's performance doesn't matter with them. McCain's performance was acceptable, making it easier for them to support him. However, he didn't really say anything other than his abortion response that would excite and motivate Barna Evangelicals to get out and vote for him.
As for other Christian groups, I think Obama came out ahead because of his aforementioned ability to speak about faith in an intimate, dynamic way. Obama talks like a Christian. McCain talks like a politician being made to talk about Jesus. Not a disaster, but not much help either.
From CBN's David Brody:
The fact that Barack Obama would show up at an Evangelical Church and take the tough questions is a credit to him. I mean he knew he was the visiting team so to speak yet he handled these questions like he has in the past: with relative ease [...]
Overall the night was a success for Obama. He didn’t get put on the spot too much with the abortion questions. He handled the "Jesus" question about his faith with ease and maybe most important he looked comfortable up there.
It may not matter altogether that much when it comes to the election (Obama will not win a majority vote of white evangelicals, who went 78% for Bush in 2004), but making inroads here will go a good way toward improved governance after he wins, and that, of course, is the Big Picture. Picking up a percentage or two is a smart move, and so is reinforcing his Christian faith (since 8% of voters are ill-informed enough to think he's Muslim). And there's always the "hey, he's really thoughtful. Maybe I don't hate him" factor, which will be needed for the anticipated GOP onslaught of negative advertising.
Meanwhile the tightening race (you won't see it in the unchanging tracking polls, which continue to have Obama up by a tad) takes us through to the conventions, when things can change for the first time since Clinton dropped out.
Regardless of the exact timing, the voter is going to get two vice presidential nominations, and two sequences of four nights of party conventions -- all within the time period from now through Sept. 4.
A few days after that, say about the weekend of Sept. 5-7, we'll know where things stand as a baseline and starting point for the sure-to-be-hyperactive fall campaign. Meanwhile, our Gallup Poll Daily tracking will monitor the ups and downs of the candidates as each day's new events unfold.
Pre-season's coming to an end. Obama needs to be more succinct, start throwing in better sound bites, and needs to reach the gut as well as the heart and the head. He needs to get over the C-in-C threshold, but the key to the election is the economy. And he needs to better define McCain. But, you know, these aren't great mysteries, and the campaign has done pretty well so far. So, rather than give advice to people that don't need it, I think I'll just sit back and enjoy the next two weeks. If you can't do that, you're really not a political junkie.
Don't worry. There'll be plenty more advice to be given come September and beyond. This week (maybe tomorrow) is the VP and I don't vote for VP. But in the end I suspect I'll prefer ours over theirs, whoever it is.
Comments are closed on this story.