I raise this question not because I'm convinced the answer is yes, but because I think it is worth considering whether the electorate has shifted in a way in which what worked for Republicans in past election cycles will no longer work this year. For several elections, Republicans have been able to beat Democrats, in part, by portraying them as liberal, anti-American elitists who hate the military and who are out of touch with average Americans. This strategy was effective as late as 2004 against John Kerry. But the beginning of a possible shift was noticeable in 2006, when many conservative pundits (including myself) expected that Kerry's comments about those who join the military being uneducated would hurt the Democrats on Election Day. We will never know for sure, and obviously he wasn't on the ballot himself, but there's certainly nothing to suggest that it had any impact on the race.
During this election cycle, conservatives have consistently underestimated Barack Obama. There have been numerous occasions in which Obama said things that conservatives were convinced would be damaging, even fatal, to his campaign, and so far they have been proven wrong every time. When Obama said in the YouTube debate he would meet with a rogues gallery of foreign leaders, many conservatives thought he shot himself in the foot, but he turned the uproar to his advantage; when the Jeremiah Wright controversy broke out, many conservatives predicted it could finish him, but there's not much evidence it did anything other than cause a short-lived dip in the polls; and most recently, many conservatives, including myself, believed that his elitist remarks in San Francisco would damage him, but so far there isn't conclusive evidence to suggest it has. While the ARG poll in Pennsylvania did show Hillary Clinton opening up a 20-point lead in the wake of the comments, a Quinnipiac poll released today shows virtually no movement in the state from the prior poll, even if you look at different demographic groups that one would think would be the most turned off by such statements. For instance, Obama's numbers actually slightly improved among Reagan Democrats.
Now, one could argue (and I actually have argued), that all of these controversies that Obama has been able to skate past in the primary will come back to haunt him in the general. But maybe not. The Gallup daily tracking poll released yesterday showed no impact to Obama's national numbers, not only against Clinton, but against John McCain in the general. Furthermore, if you go back to the 2004 race, remember that one of the things that caused Howard Dean's dramatic collapse was when he said that Saddam Hussein's capture didn't make America any safer. Even though Democratic primary voters were decidedly against the war, the comments made him look like a radical fringe character who was unelectable, so the party went with Kerry, the war hero. The point is that in the electoral environment of four years ago, even in the Democratic primary, many of Obama's controversies would likely have doomed his candidacy.
I have no idea what this fall will bring, and perhaps the GOP's plans to portray Obama as just another liberal in new packaging will pay off like it has in the past. Or perhaps as the result of the war, the economy, and overall frustration with President Bush, it's a whole new ballgame that conservatives haven't yet adjusted to.
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