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Cristina Chang Headshot

An Open Letter To Senator Obama

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Dear Sen. Barack Obama,

Take this from an ardent supporter who came on board before the Iowa caucuses. Let us get straight to the point. You are losing. You are the underdog and the sooner you realize that and learn from it, the better.

Have you forgotten New Hampshire?

Your campaign's most loyal supporters, those who came on board because of your message of hope and change and a liberal base emphatic on leaving the Bush era, will continue to support you even if you start getting more serious and leaning to the center. However, some of the very people who were attracted to your message of a new kind of politics are waning. Fair or not, even straight ticket Democratic voters, those who would prefer the war in Iraq to end and an economic policy that favors the middle class again, feel that your slogans are exploited and your promises too risky, not to mention out of reach.

If you do not win this year's election, you would not be the first Democratic presidential nominee to be heavily favored but ultimately trounced. Dukakis, Gore, and to a lesser intent, Kerry, were once thought to handily win their respective races. We have to face it: Republicans are experts when it comes to labeling, from soft-on-crime Dukakis, to flip-flopping Kerry. Surely voters wouldn't think that you are simply "empty rhetoric" or "risky", would they? I would not count on it. Even mainstream voters do not need the Republicans to tell them how they should feel about the risk of change to experience it. Just ask around.

Why did so many qualified Democrats go on to lose? Surely America would look at your platform, then look at McCain's, and find that the latter's is mostly a continuation of the unpopular incumbent's? Elections are supposed to be about, issues, aren't they?

Even the GOP knows issues have little to do with it. As McCain's campaign manager Rick Davis told the Washington Post, "This election is not about issues. This election is about a composite view of what people take away from these candidates." While you may criticize the McCain campaign for viewing the election this way, Davis is right.

If this election were running on issues alone, why would you have become the nominee and not Clinton? Sure, you have spent more time in elected office, but running against a former first lady with more national and foreign experience, closely tied to a former president, (who oversaw one of the most prosperous times in modern American history), surely voters would have elected her by a landslide? Do not tell me personality has nothing to do with it.

True, McCain can get away with appearing like a maverick yet having a completely different agenda and record, with little to no scrutiny from the press. Conversely, you cannot get away with talking about change and not wishing to bring great risks to the nation.
Yes, you may be ahead in the polls as recently as last week, with some electoral maps showing you with 300+ Electoral Votes. A Gallup poll published before the Republican National Convention and just after the Democratic Convention shows you lagging 48 percent to 40, on the question of who would make a stronger and more decisive leader. After the tragedy of September 11, these characteristics are determinant in winning the public. It also shows that much of the electorate is very much up for grabs by McCain's candidacy, just waiting for some news event to push them all the way. Furthermore, he leads in managing the country effectively and ties in being honest and trustworthy. No doubt, his numbers are even higher after the convention and a predictably supportive right wing base that feigned apathy in voting for him in November.

Then there is Gov. Sarah Palin, viewed more favorably than you, Sen. McCain, and even Sen. Biden. Palin could be the one who gets to be on the cover of TIME and Newsweek, not Biden, and her working mom persona has won her many fans. Sure, the public does not know much about where she stands on the issues and even if they do, it may not really matter to those already committed to defeating the Republican ticket. If she does not win over many committed feminists, at the very least she has the media concentrated away from those annoying "issues" on which you should be winning the debate. Realistically, in the race for the vice presidency, charismatic but sarcastic beats angry but experienced.

Sen. Obama, with all due respect, your campaign image needs a complete turnaround. We hardly see you in the news anymore since Palin joined to the Republican ticket as the media is concerned with every word she says. During your party's nominating convention, we would hear all about McCain's newest advertisements and various statements mingled with the evening news coverage. Yet during the GOP convention, it was all about McCain/Palin, with little response or advertisement coverage.

The circumstances are not entirely to blame. Despite voter concerns over whether or not you would be too risky for the country, you have not taken a drastic path to reassure them that change does not have to be too risky. You have not taken the time to remind them that the true risk would be staying where we are now, unwilling to learn from our mistakes, from fighting terrorism to managing the economy and move on. Combating the "risk" factor is something you simply cannot avoid, and the sooner this is done, the better.

The McCain bump is gaining speed and your supporters are gradually losing interest. They need charisma, but they also need a clear definition for change. They need to see a candidate stand strong for their beliefs, not weakly attempting to appease to every demographic, a tactic that has failed for every Democratic presidential candidate who has tried it. McCain may be stubborn in his support for Bush, but at least we know that this man is decisive and passionately stands for what he believes in. He is consistent and knows what he is doing. At least, that is the way his increasing number of supporters see it.

Moreover, yes, even Democratic-leaning voters can get tired of hearing about "hope," "change," and "yes, we can." We have been hearing it from the start of the campaign and we are still hearing it now. Voters instead wonder, rightfully cynical, what it means. Beyond changing from the policies of President Bush, even I would have difficulty explaining it. Thus the issue plaguing many Democratic candidates: what do we stand for, anyway? Assuring voters to check your platform on your campaign website simply is not going to cut it.

Voters need to know that McCain isn't going to revitalize the economy with the middle and working class in mind, but they need to understand what you are going to do, first and foremost. Fair or not, the question on whether or not your perceived risky experiment on change is going to help their bottom line persists. As one relative of mine put it, "If Obama's 'change' turns out positive, it can be really good. But if not, things can get really bad." Many, who may despise Bush while being informed on the issues, simply do not want to take the gamble. They need reassurance.

Yes, I'm voting for you in November because of the issues, but if you think that voters can't possibly vote for McCain despite his 95% support for Bush, you are, bluntly put, wrong. More than a few voters are still holding out hope that McCain will revert to the "old" maverick in him once he is in office. You are not going to win by exploiting your opponent's weakness, especially when many are willing to overlook it. You have to win by letting them know what you stand for, how you're going to help them, and why change doesn't mean a risk, it means applying the common sense that has been absent for so many years.

You have been an underdog for much of the primary race with Clinton, where you were not supposed to win, yet you pulled out all the stops to claim a victory that was destined to be your opponents. Yet, remember, you still had to limp to the finish, with Clinton gaining speed and voters tired over your repetitive message and grew to distrust you. Let us not limp to the finish now.

You need to hammer McCain on whose policy is actually mainstream. You and your supporters need to keep the mentality you had when you were behind twenty points against Clinton. They think you are too risky, too full of celebrity, too dependent on empty rhetoric and whatever the latest forwarded email states.

America cannot avoid change. It will be hard and require sacrifices. However, changing later will be truly risky. In the end, it will have been worth it. Both candidates will bring change, but only one learns from failed policies, adapts to the latest concern, and promises with a conviction to do better. Make sure the voters know this is you.

Yes, voter registration for Democrats is good. Nevertheless, the GOP operation will no doubt come out strong. It is always better to run with lower expectations.

It is time to run like your twenty points down, again.