Responding to the Challenge

When the pundits begin to debate and discuss the significance of this week’s convention, it is the name of Barack Obama that will grace their lips most often. Fame and a veneer of gold, however, are no guarantee of success in a national presidential election.

John McCain has surely noticed the organizational and rhetorical skills of the Obama machine. This has given the candidate something less than the commanding lead some predicted. McCain supporters should consequently take heart in what support their candidate currently holds in a year where the Republican brand stands tarnished by the unpopular Bush presidency. Despite a sizable influx of money from the Obama campaign and hopes that his race would bring out in force the region’s latent African-American vote, the South appears, albeit weakly, to stand in the Republican base. Reasonable portions of both the West and Midwest are still in play. Blue-collar white voters, the same group that played an appreciable role in Ronald Reagan’s 1980 victory, are still not sold on Obama’s claim to economic leadership.

These advantages should not indicate that the threat to four more years of Republican leadership is in any way fading, however. Whatever the reason, it is clear that, even with a recent tightening in the polls, Obama still has more inroads into Republican areas than McCain does into the Democratic strongholds. Reversing that trend requires exploiting two areas of Democratic weakness.

It would, first of all, be foolish for McCain not to exploit Obama’s weakness among the white, blue-collar “Reagan Democrats” who formed a key part of Hillary’s support base in her primary campaign. Serious inroads among that group could give McCain enough of a jump in the polls that he would force Obama to divert more of his attention to contesting parts of the Midwest and East where he currently has small leads.

That would allow the campaign to focus its attention on defending the West. McCain’s long tenure and presumed familiarity with the region’s issues gives him an advantage that should not be squandered.

Advertising and regional appearances need to emphasize over and over that McCain will represent the region’s interests in office in a way that someone from the outside could not. Democrats should be reminded that ecstatic prose is no substitute for caution. The presidency is still very much an office up for grabs.