06/16/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

7 Days in America : Obama's Stronger Than Today's Polls, w/Dukakis, Huffington, Vanden Heuvel & Green

Many Democrats are fretting the fact that while a generic Democrat presidentially beats a generic Republican by 15 points, an Obama-McCain contest now is a near-tie, with RealClearPolitics putting the electoral math at 272-266 for Obama. But the Democrat is significantly stronger than today's polls indicate. While he certainly sounds good, as was said of Wagner's music, he's even better than he sounds.

True, this fall there will be three unknowables that should have the largest impact on the margin and winner; viz., how do they match up when they're finally together one on one in a debate that most voters watch; who makes a gaffe that gets replayed and replayed (Ford freeing Poland in 1976); and what will the big issue or zeitgeist be then (economy? terrorist attack?) that shapes the arc of the campaign?

Still, over the next weeks and three months, there are six lesser knowables that should give Obama a 10 point or larger advantage at the post-Convention Labor Day kickoff.

*Clinton's Validation: Her pitch-perfect concession speech - who thought going into Saturday she'd have a much better day than Big Brown? - reminded women what they've historically gained as the reason to now rally behind Obama. Very smart. It will start the process of shrinking those 30-40% of Democrats telling recent exit polls that they'd either vote for McCain or stay home. Many of them may blame conscious or unconscious sexism for contributing the her defeat but that surely didn't come from Obama.

And when this group thinks about the difference between an anti-choice militarist wanting to appoint more Scalia's and a metrosexual who almost IS a soccer mom given his family and values, that percentage of disappointed Democrats will predictably.fall from 40 to 20 to 10 - or less. Bush is the glue that will hold the party together far more than sexism will divide it.

Add 5 points to Obama's tally.

*Money Gap: For the first time since...well, probably ever, a non-incumbent Democratic presidential nominee will significantly outspend a Republican nominee. Roughly, by this point Clinton had raised $20 million, Gore $40 million, Kerry $60 million and Obama $240 million, with $30+ million on hand for a Fall election where he and the DNC combined should exceed $500m - with McCain and the RNC reaching maybe $200m combined. True, a 2-1 or 3-1 edge is more decisive in a local race rather than one with two 100% recognition candidates where the free media will cover every hiccup. But $500m+ allows an Obama to spend more in, say, Ohio and Florida than any race in those states' histories, as well as push McCain very hard in all swing states and marginal states too.

Add 3 points to Obama's tally.

*Viral Gap: Here Obama's cornered the market. In the primaries, his videos were so passed around - from his Philadelphia race speech to Will.I.Am -- that it was no small part of his organizing edge everywhere, not to mention his small donor edge. The Internet may not yet be what TV was in 1960 and since, but it's getting close. Here, Obama's Apple and McCain's Atari.

Add 2 points to Obama's tally.

*Registration Gap: In 1988, presidential candidate Jesse Jackson carried New York City - and the huge upsurge in Black registration and voting helped elect David Dinkins the mayor the next year. Already, the Obama campaign and separately some 527s plan on spending tens of millions of dollars to target voters of color who will obviously be more motivated than ever before to register and vote. Dems always talk about registering new voters. But given the real turnouts by young and minority voters in the primaries in 2008, this now is not mere wishful thinking. How can it not help significantly in urban areas of Ohio, Indiana, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Florida? And exactly what cohort does McCain go to for a similar exercise -- vets who've been stop-lossed? Gov. Dukakis's arguments for a precinct captain everywhere, embraced below by Arianna and Katrina, makes all kinds of sense in the context of the Democrat having more money and voter drives around the country.

Add 2 points to Obama's tally.

*Flip-flop Gap. Both nominees will now have to dance on tightropes as they try to woo independents and voters from the other side. Obama's assertion, for example, that East Jerusalem must remain under Israeli control was rhetorically appealing but completely unrealistic. Still, while Obama is already where most voters are on Iraq, the economy, social security private accounts, universal health care, the environment, lobbyists, choice, McCain isn't. He has to sneak into the mainstream while everyone is watching. There's little doubt that, when the great scorekeeper in the sky counts up the runs in November, the Arizonian will have "flipped flopped" far more than the Illinoisan. McCain won't have to wind surf to be exposed as not exactly Mr. Integrity when it comes to consistency. Already, he was against Bush's tax cuts before he was for them.

Add 1 point to Obama's tally.

*Grace vs. Grumpiness. Hope this isn't regarded as age-ist but...anyone with a pulse this Fall will watch a vibrant and graceful nominee against the grumpy grandpa we see on sitcoms. Drew Weston convincingly argues that voters usually vote based on emotions and appearances rather than an issue list. Not since Nixon-Kennedy has there been such a style chasm, if then. On the one hand, there's a nominee with seeming effortless equanimity and eloquence and another who appears often angry because, say some of his colleagues, he has anger management problems.

Add 2 points to Obama.

Let's reduce these added points from 15 to 10 because of the likelihood of double-counting. An annoyed Hillary-lover who likes Obama's comparative grace, for example, can only vote once and shouldn't be listed in two categories. So even before we get to an economy that's tanking and a Republican nominee with literally nothing to say except more Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest, we have a terrain that's very tailored for Obama. Unless there's a big gaffe or Obama pulls up lame in the debates or McCain captures bin Laden, a President Obama may look back on his win over the Clintons as his hardest test.

Listen to the entire show here.


DUKAKIS: Q: You're one of only six living Americans who has actually been a Democratic nominee for President. So tell me, how did Obama do it?
"Despite what I thought was a very impressive effort on the part of Hillary herself, I don't think the people around her really understood the importance of grassroots organizing. And so particularly in the caucus states, Obama just out-organized her. Obama's an extraordinary guy, Mark. He's not only the most genuinely eloquent people we've had in American politics in a long time, but he comes out of an interesting background -- he's a guy who's achieved a lot."

DUKAKIS: Q: In 1988 you were a liberal Democrat running against a Republican with an impressive war record, and you got Bushwhacked. What advice do you have, if any, to Barack Obama as the assaults start coming his way?
"We've all learned from my demise in 1988 that you can expect an attack campaign to begin even before you get the nomination, and in his case it's already begun. And I just made a terrible mistake -- it was my decision, nobody else's -- not to respond to the Bush campaign, and you just can't do that...For example, the North Carolina Republican party began running an ad allegedly against local candidates, but it was all about Obama and Rev. Wright. But it was an outrageous ad -- so outrageous that John McCain said he deplored it, and sent a letter to the Republican state party of North Carolina and asked them to take it off. Amazingly, however, they kept running it?"

DUKAKIS: Q: You've organized campaigns at the grassroots level. What do you mean by your precinct-based strategy?
"If we go out and organize every single one of the 200,000 precincts in the 50 states, and stop buying into this red/blue nonsense, then Obama's going to win, and win decisively." Q: Does that include, say, Utah which is unwinnable? "Why not?... Organizing at the grass roots doesn't take money. It's volunteer-driven. It's driven by the intensity of people's feelings, and they feel very intensely; not even about him but about what we've been going through for the past eight years." GREEN: "I'm convinced.Your strategy parallels Dean's 50 state strategy. If Obama does it, he might surprise people in a state or two and add to his popular vote majority, which psychologically and politically can help enlarge his mandate to govern."

DUKAKIS: Q: There has been a lot criticism by Obama supporters of Hillary Clinton's candidacy as unusually negative and personal. Do you think she should be in the running for Vice President or off the list because she was too negative?
"No, I don't agree with that, I think you should consider everybody, and that should include Hillary Clinton. I thought she ran a remarkable campaign. I don't think she was too tough, and frankly, as Barack himself suggested the other night, she may have done him a favor because he's gotten a taste of what's ahead. And maybe if that had happened to me in the primary in 1988, I'd have been far better equipped to deal with the Bush attack campaign."

DUKAKIS: Q: Should she try for the VP nod or try to be the Ted Kennedy for the next 20 years, putting a progressive imprint on hundreds of bills?
"That's a choice she could make, I mean Ted Kennedy, as we both know, has been a remarkable Senator. He tried for the presidency, got beat, and decided that he wanted to be the very best senator he could be, and he has been. He'll go down in history as one of the finest United States senators we've ever had. I mean that's not an insignificant role. And by the way, given the filibuster rule in the Senate, it's going to be very important for a new president, if his name is Obama, to have people like Hillary Clinton leading the charge in the Senate."

HUFFINGTON: Q: What do you think about Dukakis's mania for precinct-based grassroots organizing. Is it smart or wasteful?
"Oh, I think it is incredibly smart. And you know, Howard Dean was kind of ridiculed about the 50-state strategy, but I think it's going to pay off. Because this is a different time, and Obama is a different candidate, and the blue/red state divisions that the media is obsessed with are not going to apply in this election." VANDEN HEUVEL: "I think we should all become precinct captains, all three of us, and take over our precincts.... Howard Dean's 50-state strategy has helped rebuild a Democratic party that was essentially a money vessel. And it is bringing in people from below, and what you see in Obama's campaign, in kind of remaking the political campaign, is Howard Dean 3.0. So he fused online and offline activism."

VANDEN HEUVEL: Q: This Fall, there are two schools of thought. One, Obama actually could put together a new coalition with a 55-45 win, and we have a New New Deal. Or, he could end up looking like the student in front of the Chinese tank in Tiananmen Square. What's your read?
"My sense of Barack Obama coming in is that he comes in with wind at his back, a new coalition, energy from below that is larger than his candidacy...and I think he focuses on three or four core issues that will transform our politics. One is healthcare, the other is beginning to end this war, energy, and finally, facts on the ground.... Those will push him, with a new Congress, perhaps to take legislation as forward looking and as great as in '65, '66, in LBJ's period. So I think it could be a very exciting moment."

HUFFINGTON: "And if you add the fact that he is going to bring in unprecedented numbers of young people and African Americans, and if you add also the intangible moment, you know, the Zeitgeist, what's happening in the country, the longing for real change, the longing to close the Bush chapter and leave all that behind us, I think this is a really exciting time. I mean, I don't want us to get in any way cocky and overconfident, because there is a lot of work to be done. And McCain and the Reublican 527s are going to use everything they can to fearmonger the American people again."

HUFFINGTON: Q: Your thoughts on a man named Barack Hussein Obama -- quite literally African and American -- becoming the presidential nominee of the Democratic party and the favorite for the President of the United States?
"When he gives his acceptance speech in Denver at the convention, it's going to be on the day 45 years after Martin Luther King's 'I Have a Dream' speech. That tells you so much about America, and is such a cause for optimism. And it's not just for Democrats; I think that whether you are a Republican or an Independent or a Democrat, this is an incredible moment. And it can help bring out the best in people, which is what Paul Wellstone told me once is the best thing an American president can do."