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Last ditch effort: McCain’s failed strategy

Published: October 17, 2008
Section: Opinions


With only four weeks left to the election, McCain is finding himself climbing an increasingly steeper hill to victory. The economy is receding, Senator Obama is perceived as the more knowledgeable candidate on the economy, and the Republicans and the Bush administration are receiving much of the blame for the financial crisis.

Only a few weeks ago, McCain was actually leading in the polls; now Senator Obama has skyrocketed to poll numbers that had yet to be seen in this election cycle until now. The projected electoral map shows that McCain’s possible paths to victory are getting limited. So what was to be Senator McCain’s new strategy to address this turn of events? The new strategy that McCain’s campaign unveiled is far from new. The strategy is to move the spotlight away from the faltering economy and onto Senator Obama’s past associations. The economy has long been perceived as McCain’s weakness while Obama’s past associations and character have been perceived as his. If McCain hopes to turn this election around by attacking Senator Obama’s character and past associations, then he is mistaken. Continuing with this “new” plan will result in McCain falling short of 270 on Election Day.

At first look, the new strategy seems like it should be effective. Many swing voters are unsure about Senator Obama’s patriotism and his character, so reinforcing those uncertainties would play out to the advantage of McCain. However, in the context of what has been happening for the past few weeks; this plan has too many flaws for it to work.

The first problem is that Senator Obama has already gone through this a few months ago with Senator Clinton. Senator Obama’s primary battle was closely contested and many of his past associations have already received a large amount of media attention, especially in many of the swing states. On top of this, if McCain wanted to attack Obama’s character, he should have done it over the summer. That is the time to define your opponent in the eyes of the voters, not a few weeks before the election.

The second problem with this strategy is that Senator McCain has already ruled out attacking Obama on his most vulnerable association, Reverend Wright. When Republicans in North Carolina began running ads attacking North Carolina Democrats for their support for Senator Obama, who associates with Reverend Wright, Senator McCain made it clear that he disapproved of the attacks on Reverend Wright. McCain’s protests scored some points then, but now his criticism has left him unable to use the attack himself. Reverend Wright was really close to Obama, having been his pastor for many years, and so Wright would be the most important component to an attack on Obama’s character and associations. Without Reverend Wright, the attacks on Obama will be hollow and ineffective.

The third problem with McCain’s strategy is that it is difficult to distract voters from the economy when your campaign announces that you plan to distract them from the economy. When talking to the Washington Post about the new strategy, a Republican strategist mentioned in reference to the strategy that, “There’s no question that we have to change the subject here.” Even worse was when another Republican strategist told the New York Daily News, “It’s a dangerous road, but we have no choice…If we keep talking about the economic crisis, we’re going to lose.” Not only do these leaks reinforce the perception that McCain is weak on the economy, they also completely undercut the whole purpose of this new strategy.

The final problem with this plan is that the economy is hurting so much that it will be difficult to push it aside in the minds of voters. As the stock market continues to fall, many are watching their savings and retirement funds deplete at a frightening pace. As credit tightens, many business owners are having more difficulty securing loans to maintain their business. As the housing market falters, many are having difficulty getting a mortgage to purchase a home. Many of these people are concerned with how patriotic Obama is; however, they will ultimately vote based on there economic situation. As the economy continues to slump, these voters will end up unaffected by Senator McCain’s new strategy. Instead of attacking Senator Obama’s past associations, McCain should hang a lantern on his problem and address his economic weakness.

Senator McCain is perceived as the foreign policy expert and Senator Obama is perceived as the economics expert in this presidential race. If Senator McCain wants to win this election he has to attack Senator Obama, not on character, but on economics. First, McCain must more seriously attack Obama on his tax proposals. McCain must specifically point out the faults of Obama’s proposals to raise taxes. Obama wants to raise taxes on businesses, on the wealthy, and Obama wants to raise the capital gains tax. All three of these taxes would prove catastrophic to the already weak economy. In order for this economy to more successfully recover from this slump, investors must keep putting money into the markets so that they may expand and grow. These investors would get hit hard with these taxes and they would be discouraged from putting more money into the market when it is most needed.

McCain must secondly attempt to avert the blame for the current problem from the Republicans’ deregulation to the Democrats’ government intervention with their support of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. These two institutions share much of the blame for the current financial crises and the party that was mostly responsible for their formation was the Democratic Party. The Democrats also sidelined many attempts to regulate these institutions by the Republicans. Senator McCain needs to attack the Democrats on this issue if he wants to try and divert much of the bad press that Republicans are getting for the current financial crises.

Senator McCain must also push harder on his energy plan. The only perceived strength of McCain on the economy is his strong support for energy independence. Senator McCain has consistently been more aggressive on the issue than Senator Obama and it would do McCain a great deal of good to lay out even more specifics for how he will accomplish his goal. Senator McCain must begin to push back on his perceived weakness if he is to have any hope for winning the election.

Senator McCain’s new strategy of slinging mud at Senator Obama will not lead him to the 270 electoral votes he needs to win the election. The number of holes in his plan makes his strategy of attack mute and ineffective. Many voters are afraid that we are on the verge of another Great Depression and will not be turned by hollow attacks on Senator Obama’s patriotism. Senator Obama spent a large part of the summer attacking Senator McCain on foreign policy because that is where McCain was strongest. Due to that assault, many now believe that Senator Obama would do a fine job as commander-in-chief. If Senator McCain wants the public to believe that he can turn the economy around, then he must talk about the economy. As long as McCain continues down the path he is currently on, he will not emerge as the President-Elect in November.