Focus on nation’s economy puts pressure on McCain
Rival Obama sees poll numbers rise as news worsens
WASHINGTON – In the two weeks the Wall Street financial crisis has dominated the political debate, the presidential race has shifted from what had been essentially a dead heat to one in which Democratic Sen. Barack Obama has opened up a narrow but perceptible advantage nationally, as well as in a number of key battleground states.
The burden now falls on Republican Sen. John McCain to reverse the effects of the focus on the economy and keep the contest close enough so that a dominant debate performance, a gaffe by Obama, or some outside event can shift the momentum back to him.
Although Friday’s debate in Oxford, Miss., produced no outright winner, strategists in both parties said the coming weeks, which will include three more debates – two between McCain and Obama and the third between vice presidential candidates Gov. Sarah Palin and Sen. Joseph Biden – could be decisive in determining whether the election remains on a trajectory favorable to Obama or shifts back to too-close-to-call status.
McCain advisers are well aware that the past two weeks have brought a shift in the race, but they say that between now and Election Day, there is plenty of time for the fortunes of the two candidates to change again.
“The first lesson of this campaign, going back to 2007, is not to be panicky or reactive to poll numbers,” said McCain senior adviser Steve Schmidt. “A few weeks back, we had a clear lead, albeit a narrow one, and there were a lot of people on the Democratic side haranguing the Obama campaign in the sense of panic. We always understood not only would that lead dissipate but bounce back the other way and then bounce back again.”
For McCain, the danger is that previously undecided voters will become comfortable that Obama is ready to be president. The longer Obama can hold even a small lead, the more difficult it will be for McCain to reverse it, absent something unexpected happening. McCain’s best hope, strategists said, is for the crisis atmosphere around Wall Street and the credit markets to lessen, allowing the campaign debate to focus on other questions as much as the economy.
Schmidt said the campaign will press two arguments as forcefully as possible in the coming days. One is that Obama is not ready to be commander in chief and that, in a time of two wars, “his policies will make the world more dangerous and America less secure.” Second, he said, McCain will argue that, in a time of economic crisis, Obama will raise taxes and spending and “will make our economy worse.”
Obama signaled Saturday that his focus will be on painting McCain as out of touch on the economy. Appearing at a rally in Greensboro, N.C., Obama ripped into his rival’s remarks about the economy during the debate – but more for what McCain didn’t say.
“The truth is, through 90 minutes of debating, John McCain had a lot to say about me, but he had nothing to say about you. He didn’t even say the words ‘middle class.’ Didn’t say the words ‘working people,’ ” Obama told a cheering crowd of about 20,000 people on a rainy Saturday morning.