The current indicators of the presidential race bode well for Barak Obama, provided that he deduces the proper lessons from previous campaigns.
In 2004, the Iraq War and the loss of industrial jobs to the Far East eroded President Bush’s popularity, and paved the road for a potential Democratic victory. However, Senator Kerry was unable to rid himself of the liberal, dovish haughty label. Bush (43rd) won a second term.
In 1988, IranGate plagued President Reagan’s approval rating and the public became increasingly disenchanted with a two term Republican in the White House. Governor Dukakis led Bush by 18%, but he managed to re-entrench his liberal-dovish-cold image, whose patriotism was supposedly in doubt. Bush (41st) won.
In 1972, Democratic candidate, Senator McGovern, rode the wave of a nation-wide protest against the Vietnam War, which deteriorated the level of national optimism to its lowest ebb. However, McGovern played into the hands of those who cautioned that the presidency cannot be entrusted to an extreme leftist, liberal-dove. Nixon won.
In 1960, JFK was elected the first – and so far the only – Catholic President. He avoided the mistakes of Catholic Governor of New York, Al Smith, who ran in 1928 as a Catholic candidate and could not attract sufficient Protestant votes.
Will Obama follow in the footsteps of Kerry, Dukakis and McGovern, or will he adhere to JFK’s tactic and become the first Black president in the history of the USA?
Is Obama capable of leveraging the rare combination of political-economic-security circumstances, which constitute a unique opportunity for a sweeping Democratic victory? The US electorate reflects no-confidence in the values and performance of the current Republican leadership, and therefore aims for a change in the White House and an increasing Democratic majority on Capitol Hill. The recent Democratic gain of three House seats (Illinois, Mississippi and Louisiana), previously held by Republicans – and the accelerated retirement by Republican legislators – could be a symptom of a pending Tsunami in the House and Senate.
Moreover, US constituents prefer to limit each party to two presidential terms, as evidenced by the post Truman, Eisenhower, Johnson, Nixon and Clinton campaigns. In addition, the current economic crisis is hurting every sector in the US; the crisis of the credit card companies and the rise in unemployment loom around the corner; all time high gasoline prices are constraining the long-cherished American freedom of movement, and the rising cost of food and health services has particularly hurt the middle class, which is critical to winning the November election. Finally, irrespective of the enhanced military performance in Iraq, most Americans oppose the war and hold Republicans responsible.
Will Obama be able – through his impressive intelligence and communications skills – to overcome the steep hurdles in the race against McCain, a 72 year old Young Turk, known for his defiance of Republican leadership? In a San Francisco campaign statement, he alienated micropolitan America (towns with populations of less than 50,000 residents). But, in 2004, Kerry won metropolitan America, while Bush won micropolitan America, which ushered him into the Oval Office. During the Democratic primaries, Obama lost all “Blue Collar” States, such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky and South Dakota – which are crucial to his victory in November – and did not participate in the “Blue Collar” Michigan primary. Some of the “blue collar” constituents belong to the “white angry vote”, which cannot digest a black, liberal, dovish president. The young and inexperienced Obama will, also, have to overcome the inherent rivalry between Blacks and Hispanics. The latter hold the key to a victory in California, Texas, Florida, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico. They accord McCain preferential treatment, due to his position on illegal aliens, and they respect tradition, patriotism and military service. Obama’s record of Senate voting and speeches – and the identity of his advisors – suggest a liberal-dovish world view, including opposition to tougher sanctions against Iran and willingness to negotiate with terrorist regimes. Moreover, it requires a sophisticated effort to prove that his 20 year intimate association with the racist, anti-US and anti-Semite Pastor Wright has not impacted his world view.
The last lap of the campaign marathon will start after Labor Day, and then we’ll find out whether Barak Obama has realized, or has wasted, an unprecedented opportunity in US political history.