On Tuesday, the long and grueling 2-year U.S. 2008 election will finally come to an end, and on Wednesday the next one will begin. Or at least, if we're lucky it'll wait that long before it starts. But the big question that will be voiced by all the pundits after the results are declared Tuesday will be: What went wrong for the loser?
What if John McCain Wins?
Political polling will never be the same again. In 2004, the polls should John Kerry beating George W. Bush by several points, and yet George W. Bush won by 3% of the vote. Pollsters stopped and took a look at the way they did polls and tried to revamp their system. While polling will never be perfect nor entirely accurate, it gives a general idea of the way the election is going. Or so we're lead to believe. Ever since this economic crisis began, polls have shown Barack OBama to be as much as 10 points ahead of John McCain. While that number has shrunk in recent days, he still has a small but somewhat distinct lead of McCain. So if McCain is elected 44th President of the United States, many pollsters will probably find themselves without a job.
Many people, especially Obama supporters, will turn their blame to the Clintons. The Democratic Primaries went on endlessly and it was a brutal fight in which many harsh feelings arose, particularly between Obama and the Clintons. While Hillary Clinton was quick to jump aboard the Obama Express, Bill Clinton was slow to climb aboard. It wasn't until the Democratic National Convention that Bill Clinton finally threw his full, public support behind Barack Obama, and it hasn't been until recent weeks that Clinton has finally been seen on the campaign trail. In one interview, Clinton called John McCain a "good and honorable person", but was hesitant to say the same about Obama. Even though Hillary Clinton was been campaigning hard in key swing states like Florida, Pennsylvania, Virginia and others in declaring her support of Obama, many people will stay ask the question, "Was it enough?"
People will also looked to the list of Barack Obama's associations. Reverend Wright was a major issue in the primaries, and I believe that he will be an issue once again in the closing 2 days of the election as the ultimate McCain Trump card. Associations with William Ayers could also be viewed as an issue, because such associations will have raised questions about Obama's judgement.
Experience will also be a factor. Obama was only elected to the United States senate in 2004, and he announced his candidacy in February 2007 after spending just over 2 years in the Senate. He has indeed spent nearly half of his term-to-date in the Senate campaigning for President. Is Barack Obama simply too inexperienced?
Then there will be the ultimate question of race. Is America just not ready for an African American to be President? Could people be telling pollsters they will vote for Obama simply because they don't want to say they're going to vote against a black man? Is racism and prejudice stil so prevalant in American culture that we are still not ready to accept a minority our national leader? A co-worker of mine said a year ago that, even though she is African American, she wasn't sure if she would vote for Obama because she would be afraid that he would be assassinated. Could this also be a factor for some people? Could it be more then just an issue of racial prejudice but also fear of the prejudices and racial animosity of others to the point where they fear for the life of Barack Obama should he be elected President?
In a year where Democrats should have the election in the bag, especially with the recent economic upheaval, the question will remain for years to come as to how Democrats could have blown their best and clearest opportunity since Franklin Delano Roosevelt ousted Herbert Hoover in 1932 in the midst of an economic depression. The political climate is ripe for Democrats to grab victory. A lose now would be utterly devastating for the party.
What if Barack Obama Wins?
Needless to say, John McCain has done better then any candidate the Republican party could have hoped for. Ever since 2000, McCain has been a national figure who has earned the reputation of being an Independent Republican. Bill Clinton said it best when he said that if any Republican had any chance of winning in this political climate, it was John McCain. So if McCain loses, some of the contributing factors will be quite obvious.
It's hard to be the Presidential candidate of the incumbant party when the sitting President has approval ratings in the 20s, the lowest since Harry Truman. Americans are increasingly unhappy with the way George W. Bush has run the country over the last 8 years, and for 4 of those years Republicans held majorities in both the House and Senate, meaning that they view Republicans in general as being the ones to run the U.S. into the ground. Hence why Democrats swept back into power in 2006. And despite best efforts to place blame on Democrats who have controlled both House and Senate for 2 years, it's hard to keep the blame off the Republican President. Indeed George W. Bush has rarely been seen on the campaign trail, only publicly attending fund-raisers. Outside of his endorsement of John McCain back in March, neither McCain nor Bush have been seen publicly together during the course of the campaign. It says quite a lot when Bush didn't even show up at the Republican National Convention, and addressed the delegates via satellite for only a matter of minutes. And it has only in recent weeks that John McCain has really come out swinging at Bush, trying to really define himself separately from his colleague. But it's hard to say you're different from George W. Bush when you vote in line with him 90% of the time. If he loses, will it be because John McCain simply could not distance himself enough from the sitting President.
Barack Obama has shattered campaign fund-raising levels. He has been outspending John McCain dramaticly, and it is only in recent days where McCain has been able to match Obama's television ad spending dollar-for-dollar. For years McCain was an advocate for campaign finance reform and agreed to accept Public Financing, while Obama chose not to. Consider it ironic if it's McCain's own finance limitations that contribute to his defeat.
There will always be the question of the way McCain has run his campaign. McCain has been all over the map for nearly the entire campaign. At one point a year ago, his campaign was nearly bankrupt. If not for a vital win in New Hampshire, McCain would not have been able to continue forward in his campaign to be President. He has changed the staffing of his campaign many times, had to dismiss many because of public gaffes, and he has been unable to keep a clear, consistent message for longer then a few days. A campaign staffer even admitted that as far back as June 2008, they could not find a reason to elect John McCain. And the campaign has even had trouble laying out one clear strategy. McCain's campaign has become more well-known for its tactical plays (the Palin pick, the "suspension" of his campaign) instead of strategic plays. It hasn't been until recent weeks that the campaign has been able to stay on-message and consistent with their new mascot Joe the Plumber. If Joe the Plumber did anything, it was bring focus to an unfocused campaign. But was it too little too late?
McCain has been known for his temper, and often during the debates he came across as rude, stand-offish, and even angry and annoyed whenever Obama spoke. There are numerous clips from the third debate of McCain rolling his eyes and overreacting whenever Obama spoke. Is this the kind of temperament Americans want their President to have when he's sitting face-to-face with international leaders?
McCain's age could also be a factor. If he elected, he will be the oldest man to ever be elected President. Many questions have arisen over his health and judgment. He has had a couple fights with cancer in recent years, raising concerns amongst many voters. And his handling of the recent economic crisis also brings doubt to his judgment. While McCain might have trouble keeping his own campaign on message, it doesn't help that McCain had trouble keeping himself on message during that awful week in September. McCain was literally all over the map during that week.
In the spring of 2008, McCain vowed to run a "clean and honorable" campaign. This campaign has been anything but. I was disgusted by the Republican convention and how ugly and negative the tone was. And things just kept on getting worse. This has become one of the worst campaigns for smear tactics that I ever recall. I thought 2004 was bad, but 2008 was worse. Indeed, McCain broke one of his first campaign promises in favor of Karl Rove (or Rovian) tactics, the same tactics that sank his 2000 campaign against G.W. Bush. Ironic, though, that those same tactics that were used against him then could also sink him now, but not because they are used against him, but because he is the one using them! Rovian tactics might have worked in 2000 and 2004, but the climate in 2008 is different. Now you have instant-fact checks and numerous websites that fact check every claim that is made. Even YouTube has numerous videos showing candidates (especially McCain) contradicting themselves. The simple matter is, not only are Americans tired of these smear tactics that brought us 8 years of Bush presidency, but they simple are not falling for them anymore because a claim can be fact-checked or google-ed in a matter of minutes. The Rovian tactics worked once, but not anymore.
One of the most appealing aspects of John McCain had always been his ability to appeal to independent voters and even many Democrats because he was not afraid to take on his own party. There were in fact many issues that McCain disagreed with his own party about. But over the last year, those positions have gradually shifted so that McCain could align himself more with the party base. While this may have helped him to gain the Republican nomination, it may have ended up hurting him in the general election. McCain always appealed to independents, and it has been no secret that many base Republicans have not been enthused by the McCain candidacy. When McCain was trying to shore up the base, he should have been trying to continue to appeal to moderates and independents because of how much disgust there is right now with the Republican brand. McCain had for a long time been running away from his maverick label so that he could appeal to the base. But in doing so, McCain has lost his appeal with the very people he needed to win the election. While running a base campaign might have worked for George W. Bush in 2004, the Republican base has shrunk quite a bit over the last few years to the point where no Republican can win without winning over independents. Unfortunately, in running a campaign to try to appeal to his own party, McCain has disenfranchised the very independents and conservative Democrats that he needs to win the presidency.
To go hand-in-hand with my last point, I turn to his selection of Vice-President. McCain has had trouble shoring up the Republican base from the beginning. Republicans simply were not enthused by John McCain's candidacy for president. I recently heard a poll that stated that over 70% over Obama supporters are enthusastic about him, while around 23% of McCain supporters can say the same about him. Ouch! I firmly believe that McCain's best bet to win the presidency would've been to run away from the Republican party and go as far to the middle as he could. Indeed, there are many rumors that this indeed was what McCain's instincts were telling him when he was wanting to ask Independent Senator (and former 2000 Vice-Presidential candidate) Joe Lieberman to be his running mate. What a blow that would have been! In fact, I was expecting this to happen, because I knew that this would be a difficult ticket for Obama to beat. In fact, I believe this would've been McCain's best chance to win. But instead of running to the center, McCain chose to run to the right to not only avoid a floor fight at the convention, but to also shore up his own base. In doing so, McCain pulled another tactical maneuver (one that came out of nowhere) and picked Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. This was a blatant attempt to try to pick off Hillary Clinton voters, especially after Democrats appeared united at their own convention despite a long and brutal primary fight. Many Clinton supporters saw through it and ran even further for Obama. While the maneuver failed at grabbining many Clinton supporters, it did help McCain reinforce the Republican base.
But this was probably his biggest mistake. While Palin might have energized the base and even grabbed independents, the more we learned about Palin, the more people were turned off by her. Claims that she has more executive experience then Obama and Biden combined because of her being a mayor for 6 years and being governor for just under 2 have come across as ridiculous. It should be noted that if you use that argument, she should be at the top of the Republican ticket because she indeed also has more executive experience then John McCain! Claims that she has foreign policy experience because she can see Russia are laughable! That should mean that governors of states that border Canada and Mexico can make the same claims! And now polls show Palin to be the biggest factor that is pulling down the McCain campaign. From botched interviews to contradictory remarks, the Palin candidacy has been a disaster for the McCain campaign. And in recent weeks, it has looked like Palin has even been trying to distance herself from McCain to set herself up for 2012 Presidential bid should they lose. While Palin may have energized the Republican base for McCain, it also turned off everyone else, the very same people who used to respect and admire John McCain and might have voted for him.
Indeed, that will probably be one of the iceberg that sank McCain's ship; instead of trying to appeal to the middle of the country, John McCain worked too hard to appeal to his own party.
Pundits will spending days, even weeks if not months interviewing "experts" and strategists trying to determine what went wrong for the candidate who loses. Indeed, there will be many contributing factors if Obama loses, whether it be racism or his "inexperience" or even the Clintons not trying hard enough. The same can be said of McCain if he loses, from age to a poorly run campaign, to a bad climate for Republicans to even his own running mate.
In the end, all we can do is hope that the media will be too caught up in trying to figure out what went wrong to even start figuring out who is next for 2012. Oh, wait, too late!