After having lost the last two presidential elections and with Hillary Clinton still on the stump arguing that the near presumptive nominee is simply unelectable, it's no wonder that Democrats are starting to feel worried about November, peeking toward the future from behind the hand covering their eyes. But there are countless reasons to be optimistic about the fall election, many of which will begin to materialize soon enough.
With the nomination fight coming rapidly to a close, it is all but assured that Democrats will avoid the worst-case scenario they dreaded, a bitter convention fight that rips the party limb from limb. It is also clear that months of fear about superdelegates overturning the will of the people was unfounded. Already, Obama has overtaken the superdelegate lead, with an avalanche of support expected after he clinches the pledged delegate victory on May 20th. Obama will now have far more time than expected to prepare his general election bid, defining John McCain more sharply, and healing the wounds that a bitter primary fight has left in the party.
There are many who are concerned that, given some recent exit polling data, a number of Hillary's supporters would consider voting for McCain over Obama, a decision based less on policy and more on revenge. But for women, Hillary's strongest core of supporters, McCain is proving to be an unacceptable alternative. Ardently pro-life, McCain has recently given the indication that, despite his previous statements to the contrary, he will be unwilling to change the Republican Party platform with regard to abortion. He will refuse to include the exception for victims of rape and incest that he claims to have supported. And recently, while campaigning in New Orleans, McCain came out against equal pay for women, citing the likelihood of increased lawsuits as his reason. Of course, one would expect an increase in lawsuits given the shocking number of women being paid less than their male counterparts. But if solving the problem includes using the justice system, McCain would rather we ignore it. How utterly presidential.
The recent trends in polling also bode poorly for McCain. Saturday's Los Angeles Times poll revealed that Bush's approval ratings have fallen below those of Nixon on his final day in office. And according to the Times, "among the 78% of voters who said they believe the economy has slid into a recession, 52% would vote for Obama, compared with 32% for McCain." Obama also beats McCain by a twenty point margin among voters under 45 and loses by only six among voters 65 and older. McCain, who has spent much of his senate career assaulting Social Security and Medicare at every opportunity, is likely to see those numbers fall once voters are made aware.
Even with some of Obama's biggest weaknesses, there are reasons to be optimistic. Reverend Wright undoubtedly damaged Obama, tarnishing his luster in the eyes of many voters. But the vast majority of voters do not appear to have changed their minds based on Reverend Wright, a fact which many attribute to Obama's response to the situation. And for the media, the Wright story is already growing stale. In our 24-hour news culture, a story can only stay in what Chris Matthews describes as "the ring of fire" for so long. Eventually, the media tires of the story; attempts to rehash almost always fail. When was the last time we heard about Hillary's Bosnia flap? Or Vicki Iseman? Once a story has been exhausted, it can rarely maintain itself in the campaign narrative.
As Obama's fortunes appear to brighten, McCain's seem to be diminishing by the minute. At 71 years old, gaffes and misstatements can easily be construed as evidence of age, and can bring up questions of capacity to lead. In recent weeks, to his dismay, McCain has become a literal gaffe-machine. On at least four occasions, he has publicly mistaken Sunni and Shiite. And at a recent town hall, he made remarks that indicated his belief that the wars we have fought in the Middle East -- and those he may lead us into in the future -- have been largely about oil.
Even when he isn't committing verbal faux pas, his campaign picks up the slack. The man who decries lobbyists, claiming never to have used his position to do favors, has found himself surrounded by lobbyists on his campaign, some of whom actually conduct business aboard the Straight Talk Express. The New York Times reported that McCain used his influence to structure a land deal for one of his major contributors, who in turn saw more than $20 million in profit. The Washington Post reported on other similar land deals orchestrated by the Senator. And, as if the cake needed any more icing, today a second member of the McCain campaign resigned after it was revealed that he had lobbied on behalf of the same Burmese government that is denying aid to its citizens in the wake of a cyclone, a decision that could result in more than one million deaths.
McCain has revealed that his strategy for going after Obama is a combination of Hillary Clinton's Obama strategy and Karl Rove's John Kerry strategy. He is looking to paint Obama as inexperienced and unready, as well as ultra-liberal and elitist. That the Clinton machine, a much more well-oiled and funded operation than McCain's, failed so miserably on their end ought to give McCain pause. And with absolutely zero evidence to suggest that Obama is as flawed a candidate as Kerry, or that his campaign is as strategically wayward as the Kerry campaign, one wonders what McCain could be thinking. Obama has shown himself to be incredibly strong on the defensive, and his team has clearly learned from the failures of those who came before.
Still, as good as things look today, they should only get better. These last three months have easily been the best that McCain will see for the duration of the election cycle. With the Democratic race the exclusive focus of the media, McCain's time in the shadows allowed him to redefine himself; his favorability shot up by double-digits while his likely opponent was facing a two front war. With such advantageous circumstances however, McCain never closed in beyond the margin of error.
In the meantime, Barack Obama has amassed a database of 1.5 million donors and is expected to have as many as 1 million volunteers on election day, roughly one volunteer for every fifty voters Obama will need to secure the White House. The long primary process has been a party building exercise in nearly every state in the union, resulting in 3.5 million more Democratic voters. Hispanic Democrats now outnumber Hispanic Republicans in Florida. Pennsylvania has over four million registered Democrats. And for the first time in Nevada's history, Democrats outnumber Republicans.
It's a long road between May and November. There are going to be more than one hundred news cycles between now and the Democratic Convention. And given that Barack Obama's previous convention speech made him the subsequent nominee of his party, one can only imagine the kind of bump he'll get coming out of August this time around. There is plenty to be optimistic about; barring something unforeseeable, Barack Obama is well on his way to the Oval Office.