Political elections, especially presidential ones, are generally a recipe of money, getting and keeping competent campaign team strategists who know how to seize the best moments, networking, image wars, and winning (hopefully). Occasionally, there is even an inspiring discussion by the candidates of issues important to their various constituencies. But those latter moments ebb and flow with the significance of the political moment, and are basically subservient to the dynamics of the other issues cited above.
Currently, Senator McCain is running a campaign that depends almost entirely on one partisan issue: he is the Republican candidate. As yet, he has not distinguished himself as a worthwhile candidate beyond that.
Senator Barack Obama, on the other hand, has taken each of the requisite ingredients of a presidential campaign seriously. He has raised an extraordinary amount of money that is still rising, and the majority of that through the Internet and small change donors. He has assembled a sometimes brilliant team of strategists that, while still evolving for particular tasks, has remained virtually intact for most of this campaign. He has developed and is still expanding a network of voters, enthusiasts, skilled technocrats and political insiders. And in terms of the image wars, he has thus far scorched his opponent 100-0. The recent trip to the Middle East and Europe, the first such extensive trip by a presidential candidate, was an end-game move on a chess board. In terms of image, it was magnificent.
Is he now a shoo-in for the election in November? Of course not, but he has certainly made the opposition play his game-and it is both an old and a new game combined, which has kept his opponent off-stride. Unless there is some major scandal that sticks to him prior to the first Tuesday in November, the only real issue that will still be in play will be whether a critical mass of white Americans can overcome their lifetime of racism for a few short minutes in a voting booth.
Mr. Obama will surely get 95% plus of the African American vote. He will get at least 54% plus of the Latino vote (New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson’s endorsement and support is major), and at least 50% plus of the Asian American vote. He will also dominate the vote of young people, and he will get the lion’s share of Independents. Unless the one intervening variable of, “I just can’t do it” racism goes haywire (as it did when former L.A. mayor Tom Bradley ran for governor of California), the election will not come down to one or two states for their electoral colleges’ votes, as did the 2000 and 2004 campaigns. Of the total 538 electoral votes possible, Mr. Obama, unless a very, very ill and desperate wind blows Republican red, should get a minimum of 285 of the needed 270 for a winning candidate and accede to his destiny as the first African American president of the USA.
Though part of the campaign has now deteriorated into regular hum-drum politics (each candidate into accusations-counter accusations, each leaping on whatever the most recent gaffe and flip-flop interpretation is for the day for the other candidate, and each impugning the other’s character, etc.), in a few weeks the Democratic National Convention will present Mr. Obama as a political rock star with all the attendant celebrity and mass enthusiasm usually seen at famous concerts. There will be a huge bump up in positive public opinion polls immediately afterwards, and then the Republicans will have their National Convention and try to compete for the noise level and image factor, but they will simply not generate the kind of heartfelt emotion as the Democrats.
Why? The Republicans have money, clearly they have strategists, and just as certainly they have positions they will finally elucidate that are substantially different from those of the Democrats. They will make a credible case for Senator McCain, but he will get little if any substantial bump up in momentum towards November. The Republicans are just that out of favor. Nevertheless, the Republicans will then focus on the two or three scheduled national debates, but Mr. McCain will be hopelessly outclassed in image-oriented debates with Mr. Obama. The Democratic primary made Mr. Obama look like one of Professor Melvin Tolson’s Great Debaters from Wiley College. In one-on-one verbal duels, unless he can manage to focus it on character assassination dialogue, Mr. McCain can just mail it in.
But, knowing the Republicans, they will find something to hang their hats on given their very limited options. Has anyone checked lately how many of the big number states have Republican Secretaries of State to count the vote? Republicans know that strategy well, and why ignore a game-winning play if the opposition still can’t stop a pick-and-roll to the basket that’s guaranteed to score?
However, in his paying close attention to detail and performing at a very high level with each of the other factors he can control, Mr. Obama has come to personify the hope still alive in Americans of good will. Ironically, he is the “Keep Hope Alive” that Jesse Jackson pontificated about, much to Rev. Jackson’s chagrin. Senator Obama’s message of hope, the image of 200,000 Germans embracing him as the new American champion, his easy facility with world leaders, including, surprisingly, the Israeli decision-makers, and the closeness in time this year of the Olympics and the November presidential voting (we love to see Americans on the international victory stand), have chiseled Mr. Obama into such a strong reminder of former American greatness, that this presidential race has turned into one that Mr. Obama would have to “seriously snatch defeat from the jaws of victory” not to win (that is, barring an electric epidemic of white racism in the air on election day).
– David Horne, Ph.D. is executive director of the California African American Political Economic Institute (CAAPEI) located at California State University, Dominguez Hills

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