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|Where is the Obama bounce?|
I have been waiting and reviewing the polling data before writing this column. I was waiting because I could not believe the dismal numbers that were first reported.
Yeah, I watched the Democratic Convention every night, reviewed transcripts the following morning and then made reference notes later each day. I thought Ted Kennedy was a great way to start off the convention, that Hillary Clinton gave the best speech I have ever seen her give and that Bill Clinton reminded everyone why he is still the best 'campaign' politician in America.
By the time Thursday rolled around, Vice-Presidential nominee Joe Biden had delivered a speech that was about par with no major gaffes, which is what you want from your second pick. He did step up the attacks on Republican John McCain and that is why he fills out the bottom half of the card.
Then, Obama descended from on high, clothed in shimmering lights and adorned with praise and tears and fireworks with an electric Greek temple for a backdrop. The stage was set, but instead he delivered a pro forma Democratic speech that can be summed up as follows: Republicans are angry, mean, old and out-of-touch and only Democrats can fix social security, provide universal health care, defend our borders, improve public education and furnish middle class tax relief without raising taxes. Well…why not just throw in white teeth and clean, fresh breath, too? And, if anyone is wondering: I'd like a puppy.
To be fair, Obama's delivery style was great and his attacks on McCain were solid. But, to say that Obama's speech was a specific and detailed portrayal of what his administration would attempt would be a giant stretch. Still, the sycophantic press appeared mesmerized as did many in Denver as they looked in political ecstasy heavenward for Obama to return to the right hand of the Father after his "Sermon in the Stadium."
So where is Obama's bounce? The best numbers I have seen gave Obama a three-point bounce from the mile-high extravaganza. Some even show no net gain for Obama. Granted, we are still nine weeks away, but he should have picked up at least eight to 10 points. Many polls have the race as a dead heat going into the Republican Convention. It's like driving down a gravel road at midnight, low on gas and reading "next exit 50 miles": it's a terrible sign.
So … what happened to Obama and Biden on the way to the White House? I believe it was their rhetoric, Hurricane Gustav and Sarah Palin.
Following the announcement of then-Sen. Al Gore as his running mate, Bill Clinton saw his numbers jump 11 points. The Democrats picked up another handful of points after their convention so that Independent Ross Perot dropped out of the race (although he did return later).
Bill Clinton made a bold move with Gore and continued hammering President Bush with specifics until he won in an Electoral College landslide. Those anticipating a political meal from the Obama kitchen of hope and change got puff pastries instead. Ask anyone: what did he specifically say? I have yet to get an answer.
Next, when Hurricane Gustav displaced more than the two million Louisiana residents, it took the spotlight off Obama. Further, Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal working with state, parish and local agencies demonstrated how a competent government is supposed to function. Also, by downsizing the convention, Republicans have lowered expectations in St. Paul. They do not have to be bigger, flashier and as well choreographed as the Democrats.
Now on to McCain's choice for Vice-President: Alaskan Gov. Sarah Palin. To say that this was not brilliant on every level is like calling Al Pacino a good actor. It demonstrates an unqualified ignorance of the process.
On the positive side, Palin is female, socially conservative and from way outside the beltway. McCain restored his image as a maverick while pulling in the base of the Republican Party. Even one Palin's "weaknesses" has even turned into an advantage. As now widely reported, Palin's 17-year old daughter Bristol is five months pregnant and will have the baby. Social conservatives have championed this as an example of a family (like many others) who were faced with a crisis and acted privately in a manner consistent with their public assertions.
Obama, seeing the reaction and being a smart politician, quickly responded, "It's not appropriate, and it's not relevant." I agree: children and spouses (unless they are political) should be off-limits.
Why did the press play this issue so wrong? Because they do not understand social conservatives.
With nine weeks to go, this contest is a toss-up and will likely remain close. If Obama is ever going to pull away, he and his arbiter elegantiae entourage in the liberal media should ascertain how to shake their distain for Middle America and their values. Also, Democrats' denigration of Palin for her lack of experience? Uh ... are you sure you want to have that debate?
Unless they turn it around, Democrats will be gazing at each other wondering how they let another national campaign slip from their hands.
John W. Sutherlin, PhD, is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Louisiana-Monroe. He also is co-director at the ULM Social Science Research Lab. He can be reached by e-mailing Sutherlin@ulm.edu.