John McCain lost his final opportunity to convince 30 million people to change their mind about their support for Barack. Since most polls are showing support for Obama has crossed over 50%, McCain has to actually change minds now for him to win. There simply are not enough undecided voters in the key battleground states.
Ahh but that sounds too much like I am counting the proverbial chickens before they are hatched. So what are we left with in the final few weeks? The McCain campaign and the RNC will likely focus on a few major issues:
1) Joe the Plumber and taxes -- Joe freshens a familiar and tested Republican message frame that paints Democrats as tax and spend liberals. That message frame is going to be front and center for McCain over the next two weeks.
Our Response? -- Joe seems sensible and sincere and at first blush his concerns about taxes seem compelling. But then come the details.
If he buys the plumbing business and it grosses more than $250k, that is certainly not his tax liability. He needs profits more than $250k to be affected by the Obama plan. 97% of small businesses never get there because there are so many expenses to deduct that tax liability is always limited. There is only a 3% difference between Obama's rate and McCain's rate on anything more $250K. So even if he made more than that, it would likely be offset by additional benefits that Obama's plan offers. Namely a per employee tax credit for new employees and the elimination of Capital Gains for small businesses.
And very importantly, the Obama health care savings and benefits to small business would more than make up for any modest tax increase.
All combined, Joe the plumber is better off with Barack Obama. (Could someone explain that to him please?)
2) Democrats can't be trusted to control all three branches of Government -- this message frame worked for Republicans in 1994. The theory is that if Dems are in charge they will act like drunks at a host bar and spend too much money.
Our Response? -- Speaker Pelosi has already started talking about fiscal responsibility and Barack Obama has committed to a philosophy of Pay as you Go budget management. These are important points to emphasize. It is also worth noting that the entire health insurance program being proposed by Obama could be paid for with a year of the Iraq War budget.
3) The Wedge issues -- Gays, Guns and God. There isn't much talk about the wedge issues this year. But generally there isn't in the national media. These wedge issues have always been used by the Republicans in their ground game. And it happens around now with just a few weeks to go.
Our Response? -- American attitudes have dramatically shifted on these issues in the last few years. Not only is more of the country both pro-choice and pro-gay (well at least not anti-gay), there is lots of evidence that concern about the economy trumps all this year. The LGBT community is fighting for our political lives in Florida and California with anti-gay ballot measures. But it seems to be a regional rather than a national fight. Nonetheless, Dems must be ready to defend our real family values.
In all, there is not much new in the Republican playbook this year. And that continues to be their real problem and our real opportunity. But that playbook has worked for them in the past, so I can't let myself count those chickens yet.