Over the last couple of days I've received more calls and emails than I can count from people with fear in their voices. They want to know what to make of McCain's post- convention bounce in the polls. They want to know if Obama can still win. Most of all they want to know what they can do to help.
McCain's post-convention bounce resulted from two factors:
First, was three days of the Republican Convention, during which large numbers of viewers watched Republicans and fellow travelers like Joe Lieberman repeatedly deliver a carefully crafted message. They blasted Obama. They postured about change. Their kids looked adorable. Subject anyone to largely one-sided messaging for a week and some will be convinced. Some of that will stick; much will disappear as memories of that experience fades.
Second - and more importantly - McCain's pick of Sarah Palin moved a lot of white women. The Washington Post poll released today showed white women shifting from an eight-point pre-convention lead for Obama to a 12-point McCain advantage.
What does this mean for the outcome of the race?
The race today is about even, with McCain having a slight advantage in the popular vote, and Obama having an advantage in electoral votes. The effect of exposure to the convention itself will likely diminish over the next several weeks. In 2004, Bush moved to a nine-point lead after his convention and most of that gap disappeared within a few weeks.
The long-term effect of the Palin factor is less certain. Much depends on what all of us choose to do now.
There are about ten likely electoral vote scenarios that could develop in this race. In eight of them, Obama is the winner. The underlying desire for change, and the overall disgust with the Bush-Republican administration of the last eight years, is just as real as ever. The website www.Fivethirtyeight.com employs a sophisticated projection model to predict electoral outcomes, and it still gives 61.2% odds that Obama will win in November.
But this week's polling numbers have certainly given a wakeup call to lots of Progressives who might have become complacent in their views that Obama's victory was a lock.
What did we think - that the gang who has run this country for the last eight years would simply roll over and surrender without a fight? These guys are very good at running elections and they will bite and claw and gouge eyes to win.
Luckily, we don't have to just sit by and watch from the sidelines, and hope that someone else makes the right call or runs the right TV spots.
There are three steps that every one of us can take that will actually impact directly the ultimate outcome of this race.
1). Remember that you are Obama's best campaign commercial. Obama made a good deal of progress at his own convention in convincing swing voters he is not just an agent for change, but a "safe" choice. But there are still a lot of voters who worry about Obama. They aren't really too worried if he is "experienced" enough (though they may say so). The movement of white women to Sarah Palin should put an end to any thought that "experience" is the main issue. They are worried if he will "safely be on their side."
The message that is most persuasive at convincing someone that Obama is "safely on their side" is having someone who is like them talk to them about why they support Obama - and why they are against McCain-Palin. "If Mary or Sarah likes Obama I guess he must be OK."
If you want to help win this election, it means you might have to break the "taboo's" about not talking about politics with your neighbor or your co-worker. It means you have to bring up the campaign over the lunch table or the backyard fence. It means you can't just go along when someone says something like "Palin is such a breath of fresh air." No, you must tell them, actually she's never been for "reform" and she embraces all of the economic policies that allow big companies to make tons of money while incomes of people like us fall.
Want to make calls to swing voters like you in swing states? The Obama campaign can hook you up with lists to call and get a report from you on the outcome through their website, www.MyBarackObama.com. And don't feel like the conversations you have are just a drop in the bucket. There will be hundreds of thousands of other volunteers around America who will be doing the same thing.
2). Don't unwittingly contribute to their narrative. Most swing voters aren't excessively focused on "experience." They think the gang with lots of experience has done a pretty crummy job, at least for them. They want someone who is "on their side." One reason that many white women like and identify with Palin - at least at first blush - is because they think she identifies with them.
When Progressives make "elitist" attacks on Palin, they just reinforce the right wing narrative that the "Elitist Eastern Establishment" is the problem. Don't patronize the very people we are trying to convince.
From most people's points of view, the problem with the McCain-Palin ticket isn't so much that Palin is from a small town in rural Alaska and hasn't got the experience to run the country. The arguement that is convincing to normal people is that neither McCain nor Palin are what they claim to be - reformers or agents of change. Their campaign is being run by lobbyists for the biggest corporate interests in America--the same people who ran the Bush campaign. And they are committed to the economic policies that make average people's incomes drop and reward the very rich.
McCain and Palin act as though they identify with the interests of the guys in the NASCAR grandstand and the women at the PTA - but they are doing the bidding of the guys from Wall Street and the women wearing $4,500 outfits like the one Cindy McCain donned for the Republican Convention.
Our assault on McCain and Palin must never be done from an elitist perspective, but from a populist perspective.
3). Take personal responsibility to win this election. More than any election in modern political history, this election will be decided by the work of millions of people who talk to their neighbors, make small donations on the internet and - most importantly - demand that every voter go out to vote.
And I mean demand that every voter go to the polls. To win, we need to change the electorate. In this election, friends don't let friends not vote. There is too much at stake. The damage of another four years of Bush-McCain economic and foreign policy would be catastrophic for the future of our children, and children all over the world.
The key point is this: don't just whine to your friends about what the campaign should do, or the party should do, or the candidate should do. Take personal responsibility to do the two things that will win: persuade swing voters, and mobilize voters who won't vote unless they are motivated to do so.
The Obama campaign has the best field operation in the history of presidential politics. Join it. Take an assignment. Make contributions on the Internet. Hold a fundraiser. Write a letter to the editor. Most important: don't sit on the sidelines.
The recent polls should provide a call to arms to everyone who wants change in America or believes in progressive values.
Don't think what you do is inconsequential or can't affect the outcome. My firm, the Strategic Consulting Group, ran the field operation for a wonderful congressional candidate in south Florida in 2000. We did a great job. We knocked on every door. We pulled out lots of votes. But we lost by 550 votes. It was the same 550 votes that beat Al Gore and gave us George Bush.
If we had just dragged out one more Democrat per precinct in the closing hours of that Election Day, America would have been spared the nightmare of the last eight years. Each of us could decide the outcome of this election, too.
In 2008, Progressives in America are presented with an unprecedented opportunity to fundamentally change the direction of American politics. As I argued in my book, Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, we could be on the verge of a new progressive era in America. If we win, progressives will be able to take the offensive and reshape the political and economic structures of our society for the first time in four decades. We can come out of our defensive crouch and help shape a democratic society infused with progressive values, with the fundamental principle that "we're all in this together" not "all in this alone."
But to have that opportunity we have to win - and winning requires that we all stand up now and take the future into our own hands. The game is on. Get out of the stands and onto the field, into the arena. The work we do over the next 56 days could be the most important that any of us will do in our lives. Let's not miss this precious opportunity to make history.
Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist, and author of the recent book Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on Amazon.com.