Monday, June 9, 2008

General Election Candidate Base Flaws

As is written in my profile my background in politics is in the field operations of campaigns. Get Out The Vote (GOTV) is often the least funded and focused upon aspect of campaigns, but generally decide elections and can make up for being outspent on TV. The field operations of John McCain and Barack Obama will come down to which 'field' or GOTV operation 1) identifies and 2) turns out their voters.

Identifying voters is the step most people don't understand or know about. Campaigns work with voter files from states and break these lists down with the information on them. Since you are talking about 100-140 million possible voters you can't realistically have a list of voters that will put you over the top. For example a candidate the appeal to older voters will mail, call, and knock on doors of all 60+ year old voters knowing that they will turn out votes against them but will win the 'margin'.

What most campaigns rely on is to turn out their "base". This was very evident in the primary with Obama and Clinton. Women and latino voters were Hillary's base and African American and affluent voters were the base for Barack. The makeup and number of these voters in each state determined the 'favorite' in each state.

When candidates emerge from primaries they have the challenge of putting together a coalition of the part of the base that wasn't with them in the primary. In the upcoming general election each candidate's bases expand but for the 1st time in a long time the two candidates have significant cracks in their base votes they need to win.


While Unions and African Americans are most associated with the Democratic Party the largest important group for Obama and any Democratic nominee is women. Women make up over half of the General Election voting base and the Democrats have seen their advantage slip recently amongst this group.

John Kerry only won women 51%-48% against President Bush four years ago. Obama is going to have to improve that number to win in November but is coming off a tough contest where many women were backing and invested in electing Hillary Clinton. Read an article yesterday discussing the essential need for Obama to court the Clinton women voters.

Latinos (non-Cuban) is another demographic that Democrats have historically done well with that President Bush effectively targeted. While the media has been writing all about the women vote, if you remember Super Tuesday and California the talk was that Latinos were wary of Obama and preferred Clinton in pretty large numbers.

I feel that once the positions are outlined between McCain and Obama that Barack will do very well with women and will be helped because he took the high road more often than not with Hillary. He made some misstatements like "We like you well enough" in New Hampshire, but overall did not attack her in a misogynistic way as she has been so often hammered by the Republicans which may have permanentlt fractured a damaging level of support.

There is also talk of some possible women running mates, like Clinton or Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius who would instantly fire up many of the same women who so badly wanted Hillary to become the first woman candidate.

As far as the Latino vote, this will be a hotly contested for Demographic. McCain has some weaknesses with Latino leaders who were happy with him when he co-sponsored immigration reform with Ted Kennedy, but felt betrayed when he weaseled his way out of support for it when the Republicans went crazy against it in the primary.

Clinton again, would be a help for Obama on the ticket for Latino voters who have long had good relations and admiration with the Clinton family. This is also where Bill Richardson's name keeps coming up as an intriguing running mate. Richardson a Latino Governor from New Mexico could rev up Latino voters for Obama.

There is also a lot of concern about Obama's appeal to win votes in white working class homes that went heavily for Hillary in the primary. He is more out of the elitist wing of the party but has a story that could connect with these voters.

John McCain has long been the favorite Republican of Democrats. The problem with that is he has often antagonized his own party to promote himself. This has many base voters in the Republican party less enthused about his candidacy.

McCain's biggest problem heading towards November is the Republicans most loyal and important voting group, Evangelicals and Christian Conservatives.

There are two articles that have appeared over the past two days which point out the ineffectiveness to this point of the McCain campaign to effectively court these voters. One from the New York Times which said Evangelicals are taking a 'wait and see' attitude and that as he tries to court moderate voters he risks losing more support from the 'evangelical and conservative base.'

McCain has already had to walk a super tight rope with Christian backers of his campaign and conservative icon Bob Novak outlines these issues very well in his article today in the Chicago Sun Times.

With all the focus on Obama and Clinton there has been little focus on the growing chasm between Dr. James Dobson and McCain which Novak depicts as a bitter one.

17people didn't cover when John McCain disavowed the support of Reverend John Hagee. Hagee had a 10 year old video surface and damage his reputation where he had harsh words against Catholics. McCain's handling of the situation has not set well with some Christian voters and Hagee has issues with the way McCain handled the situation.

Hagee's telephone lines became clogged with calls from worshippers asking whether they should vote for McCain. Hagee replies he really does not know, but asserts to friends that McCain "threw me under the bus."

How McCain settles these issues will determine what the Electoral map really looks like. He will have big backers in this group, but the problem with the Evangelical movement is they expect loyalty.
He has not satisfied conservatives who oppose his positions on global warming, campaign finance reform, immigration, domestic oil drilling and how to ban same-sex marriages. (Novak, Sun Times, 6/9/08)

In the end I am sure McCain will wamp Obama in this Demographic, but the enthusiasm these voters have for him will be important especially in Midwest battleground states. This group was mobilized in 2004 and in my opinion won Ohio for George Bush.

For a truly thoughtful article on Democrat efforts to go after 'moral voters' check out 17people's view on this issue way back on February 4th.

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