Is Senator Barack Obama just another liberal Democrat waiting to be slaughtered in the general election? He does not seem to fit the role, but the case can be made that he is the Chicago version of John Kerry or Michael Dukakis — both politicians from the same neighborhood as Teddy Kennedy who, by the way, has endorsed the senator from Illinois.
No doubt, this drives Hillary Clinton, spouse of the Great Triangulator, nuts as her once certain victory slips away. Obama is a community organizer for goodness sake! Hasn’t the Democratic Party learned from its mistakes in nominating extremely liberal candidates and seeing them lose to the Republicans in the fall election?
That was the lesson of Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter — until the latter demonstrated that he really wasn’t a moderate Southern Democrat and promptly lost his re-election bid to Ronald Reagan.
Consider: Senator Obama has the most liberal voting record in the U.S. Senate. He attends a church whose former long-time pastor is the epitome of alienation from even the liberal mainstream and will cause severe heartburn in the hearts of many Reagan Democrats in places such as Ohio, Macomb County (Michigan), or South St. Louis.
It is hard to imagine a domestic problem for which Senator Obama is not ready, willing and able to write a really big check to solve. And he is pretty much hard left on abortion and other social issues.
BUT AS I SAID, Senator Obama does not have the look of someone who is in the process of marginalizing himself from the electorate. He is personable and charming, even stylish in a Cary Grant or Sidney Poitier sort of way. He is likeable. Could you say that about Senator Kerry or Governor Dukakis?
It is no accident that the Obama Internet fund-raising operation, one almost entirely driven by small donors, has been in high gear for months, blissfully unconcerned about big donors in Hollywood or New York who send nasty letters to the Speaker of the House because she thinks the Democratic primary should be decided by something like majority rule.
The Obama campaign raised $40 million in March alone, twice the amount garnered by the Clinton campaign. Of the 442,000 March contributors, 218,000 were first-time contributors, averaging $96 per donor. For the entire campaign to date, Senator Obama has enlisted the support of 1,276,000 contributors, an amazing number and an indicator of deep grass-roots support.
If the Senator manages to clinch the nomination, the sky is the limit on these kinds of donations. He will be able to live off the land and harry Senator John McCain in a war of attrition that U.S. Grant could only dream about. He is doing the same thing to Hillary Clinton, right now, with a massive media buy in Pennsylvania.
Patrick Ruffini, a Republican Internet campaign expert, has been chronicling the on-line success of the Obama campaign throughout the election. He reminded readers in late February how impressed Republicans were when George W. Bush announced a record $37 million dollar fundraising haul for the first six months of 1999. Obama has taken this game to an entirely new level.
Senator Obama’s wide margins among African-Americans and younger voters have to be viewed as strong points. Yet, the great danger is that, despite his biracial heritage and his own best efforts, he may be transformed into the “black” candidate by the mendacity of the Clintons and the radicalism of his pastor.
His wife didn’t help, but I will not go into that since I still hold to the quaint idea that a candidate’s family members are to be accorded the status of virtual non-combatants. I actually liked it when Chelsea Clinton smacked that kid, metaphorically speaking, when he asked her about the Lewinsky matter. But I digress.
Obama could be in danger of becoming a divisive figure rather than the avatar of change if he lets the Clinton campaign and Pastor Wright rob him of his universal, i.e., non-racial, appeal. Time will tell if his Philadelphia speech and his personal demeanor will mitigate the threat.
Even the war in Iraq is not as big a threat given that he has at least half the country with him on that issue already.
SPEAKING OF THE WAR, Republicans seem to be warming to the idea of running on that issue and that issue alone. Certainly, Senator McCain is the quintessential warrior with the record and the experience to run on that platform. He may not know jack about the economy, but he can safely assume that the same is true for Senator Obama on matters of international affairs and security.
As the economy continues its death spiral, the Democrats are preparing to run on that issue, a natural strength for them. If Senator Obama is as smart as he seems, he will focus on the economics and health care and let his past record on the war satisfy the anti-war base of his party through November.
The fall campaign is shaping up to be a contest of strength against strength or strength on weakness. The two campaigns will talk past each other, hoping to convince the electorate that their favored issue is the most important one for the future of the Republic.