Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Democrats in Denver


Behold Barack Obama, "a leader that God has blessed us with at this time," according to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's recent benediction.

Just when you think the "Obama the Messiah" thing is getting too old to lampoon, an Obama acolyte or the Chosen One himself ("We will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when ... the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.") waxes biblical.

It's odd, because, as the Democrats assemble this week in Denver, what's clear is that the 2008 presidential race is no longer a race between a demigod and a mere mortal. No, despite the Illinois senator's epic self-regard and the national media's unseemly cheerleading, it's now a race between two men who, as they say in football locker rooms across this broad land, put their pants on the same way.

That it's a race at all at this point in the campaign makes clear that Obama has feet of clay, and maybe even a glass jaw. Obama fever seems to have peaked.

After all, he's running in the most favorable political environment for a Democrat since Franklin D. Roosevelt challenged Herbert Hoover in 1932. The Iraq war, the weak economy, national GOP fatigue after eight years of George W. Bush—the only thing better would be to combine all this with a National Enquirer story showing McCain had fathered a love child while cheating on his cancer-stricken wife. (I know, that's so derivative.) Further, no candidate for higher office has enjoyed more fawning media treatment—at least, not this side of Napoleon.

Yet, look where the race stands heading into the Democratic convention. And look how Obama's standing stacks up to Democratic presidential candidates at the same point in campaigns past.

Last week, the Reuters/Zogby poll gave McCain a 46 to 41 percent lead over Obama among likely voters—all the more eye-popping when you consider that McCain trailed Obama by seven points in July. The bipartisan Battleground poll showed McCain with 47 percent and Obama with 46 percent among likely voters, inside the poll's 3.1 percent margin of error, but telling nonetheless. The Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg News poll had Obama ahead, 42 percent to 41 percent, among registered voters, but that didn't do much for the Los Angeles Times pollster. "With the economy doing so poorly and the unpopularity of the war in Iraq," Susan Pinkus noted, "Obama should be further ahead."

Before the Democratic convention in 2004—a year far less friendly to Democrats, with a Democratic nominee who had not achieved media man-god status—the polls showed a neck-and neck race.

As for the Electoral College, take a peek at On Friday, Obama laid claim to a projected 269 electoral votes, McCain 256, with 13 ties. Click on "This day in 2004," and you'll see that John Kerry had a projected 286 electoral votes, Bush 233, with 19 ties. Of course, that was after the Democratic and before the Republican convention in 2004.

Small wonder Republicans look a bit more at ease and Democrats a little tense these days. McCain fans didn't expect this tightening to come so soon. And Democrats? Well, this is what Clinton folks predicted.

Maybe all this explains Obama's recent efforts to both toughen up his own rhetoric and whine about McCain's. (He's questioning my patriotism!)

And maybe it's explained by the Obama weaknesses as a candidate that became manifest over the course of his long march against Hillary Clinton: his far-left record, his far-out associations (Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., Tony Rezko, William Ayers), his policy wanderings (Iraq, offshore drilling), political dissembling (the Born-Alive Infant Protection Act) and his less-than-impressive performances without a teleprompter. These are weaknesses that charisma won't necessarily offset and that McCain's campaign will continue to hammer on from now until November in a way Sen. Clinton's campaign never could.

Perhaps the dynamics of this race will change with Obama's selection of his vice presidential running mate. Perhaps the Democratic clambake will give Obama a big post-convention bounce that won't evaporate upon the adjournment of the GOP's St. Paul convention. What will happen in Denver this week? The only thing we know for sure is this:

Teleprompter and charisma in tow, Barack Obama—now rumored to be a mere mortal—will give a brilliant acceptance speech.

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