The story of an unknown who quickly rises to a leader of the Party and becomes the face of hope in America is the stuff of Hollywood magic. This election season, both campaigns feature this narrative, except like any good movie, the protagonists in the Sarah Palin story have fallen on hard times. It has not been a good couple of weeks for Team McCain-Palin, and there are ominous signs about what may occur on November 4. While the Obama camp apparently believes the polls point to an election landslide, McCain still has a chance to turn the tide and capture the presidency. However, his campaign needs to make adjustments quickly.
First, McCain needs to take off the gloves. Both campaigns have been predictably rough and dirty at times. TNS Media Intelligence Campaign Media Analysis Group concluded that 77 percent of Obama’s ads have been negative, compared to 56 percent of McCain’s. Thus far, however, McCain has declined to emphasize fully Obama’s extremely questionable affiliations throughout his life.
It is time for McCain to remind voters that Obama called Reverend Jeremiah Wright his “moral compass,” despite Wright’s America-bashing, race-baiting sermons and Obama’s decade-long attendance at the Chicago Trinity United Church. He needs to emphasize Obama’s connections with Weather Underground terrorist, William Ayers, and radical socialist, Cornel West. Is it possible that voters will punish McCain for the hard-hitting attacks? Sure. It is far more likely these ads will remind voters why they are uncomfortable with an Obama presidency.
Second, McCain needs to start talking coherently about the financial crisis America faces. He does not need to become an economic expert overnight, but he needs to explain how Democratic policies that Obama supported contributed to reckless behavior that taxpayers insured. These policies include Democratic support of Fannie Fae and Freddie Mac, institutions that gave more money to Obama than any other senator in the last three years except Chris Dodd, as well as Obama’s connections with former Fannie executives, Jim Johnson and Franklin Raines.
Third, McCain and Palin need to campaign separately more often. McCain’s strength is the intimate, town-hall setting where he can connect with voters. Palin, on the other hand, is far more capable of drawing big crowds and firing them up. Keeping them together limits the campaign’s ability to reach more voters in a short amount of time, which they need to do. It also limits Palin’s ability to be herself and connect with voters in her “everyman” way. The campaign has been overly concerned about the perception of Palin outdrawing McCain at these events. Her primary task at this point needs to be mobilization, which is best accomplished through big crowds.
Last, and most importantly, the McCain campaign must do a better job of organizing its ground game. This election, like many, may hinge less on the issues or the candidates and far more on who is better organized and capable of bringing voters to the polls. This should be McCain’s biggest cause for concern, because unlike previous elections, Democrats are exceptionally well organized. Obama has greatly increased Democratic voter registration and has mobilized millions of volunteers.
Unfortunately, either McCain’s campaign is disorganized, and perhaps understaffed when it comes to this aspect of the campaign, or Republicans are not volunteering at sufficient numbers. One field staffer in a swing state, who asked not to be identified, told me that the activists “haven’t woken up and started doing anything yet.” I personally know several people who have reached out to the campaign to get information about volunteering and organizing fundraisers, and most of them have either received no response or very little assistance. This needs to change if McCain is going to win.
While there are discouraging signs, there is also some good news for McCain. Approximately one-fifth of voters are undecided. This is a staggeringly high number and could bode well for McCain on Election Day given his experience in these uncertain times. However, if the election were held today, Obama would probably win because North Carolina, Virginia and Colorado, three states that usually vote Republican, are leaning towards Obama. On the other hand, the two states that decided the last two elections, Ohio and Florida, would likely fall to McCain. That means McCain needs to hold the states that are leaning in his direction and turn the tides in three states that Republicans usually win. If he can do that, which is very possible, he is the next president.
In the acclaimed movie, “Lawrence of Arabia,” Peter O’Toole playing T.E. Lawrence defies fatalist doubters who warn him that venturing into the Arabian Desert to search for a fallen comrade is certain death, telling him, “It is written.” When he returns successfully, he tells the stunned doomsayers, “Nothing is written.” For McCain, defeat is not inevitable; nor is victory. It is up to his campaign and their volunteers to write this ending.