Turning our attention to the inevitable general election match-up between Obama and McCain, it is becoming increasingly clear to both Democratic and Republican strategists that if the campaign is centered on the issues, Obama will win. On issue after issue -- from Iraq to the economy to health care -- Obama's positions are aligned with an overwhelming majority of the American people. All the while McCain's "Bush-like" stances are deeply unpopular or inadequate.
For this reason alone, it is widely assumed that McCain's handlers will quickly turn the Arizona Senator's modus operandi from straight talk to hate talk. Barack Obama and his team understands that the strategy against him will be simple -- raise doubts about his religious affiliation, values and patriotism; raise questions about the sincerity of his commitment to a mainstream, inclusive domestic agenda; and sow concerns about his desire to pursue a strong foreign policy that keeps America and its traditional allies safe and secure.
Republicans believe that in Barack Obama lies the ideal "exotic" opponent for their tear-down politics. Indeed, they have watched and taken notes as Hillary Clinton has gained traction among white middle- and lower-income voters against the more compelling Obama - by hinting in tandem with conservative pundits -- at his "otherness" in a calculated campaign to raise questions about his values and worldview.
Heading into the summer, it will be far more necessary than for most candidates that Obama develop a complement of strong "validators." That is because Obama remains a relatively unknown commodity with an uncommon pedigree. Obama's collection of advocates must be comprised of well-known individuals of undisputed patriotism, mainstream "American" values and unimpeachable integrity. Further, this arsenal will have to be actively and creatively engaged throughout the campaign -- far more so than John Kerry's band of traveling Vietnam War vets - in the effort to verify Obama's mainstream American values.
One of the benefits to Obama of the hard fought primary campaign has been the identification of demographic slices that are skeptical of his candidacy. White "blue collar" types, senior citizens, Hispanic and Jewish voters seem to be particularly challenging subgroups of the traditional Democratic coalition for Obama. To many of these voters, the choice of the like-minded Clinton over Obama doesn't signify a difference over politics, but a preference for a candidate that appears safer and less uncertain. For Obama to lock down these voters in the general election, he will have to expend considerable effort to address the doubt that has been raised among many of these voters.
In order to meet this challenge, Obama will need this legion of so-called validators -- from the nationally known to the locally respected. Television advertising won't do the trick. Only trusted leaders from within the electorate can provide the necessary assurance to voters who support Obama's policies, but may be hesitant to pull the lever on election day.