When Democrats criticise John McCain, they first praise his honourable military record. When Republicans do the same to Barack Obama, many begin by conceding that he is an “attractive and talented candidate”.
By Edward Luce in Washington
Recent history says that Mr Obama will have to fight a bitter campaign if he is to scrape a narrow victory for the White House. But a number of independent operatives believe an Obama landslide is a growing possibility.
They cite a barrage of advantages. Mr Obama is expected to outspend his opponent by at least two-to-one.
The economy is far and away the biggest issue of concern to voters – and looks likely to become more so as oil prices and home foreclosures mount.
Only 4 per cent of Americans cite terrorism as their greatest concern – a massive shift from 2004, when it was near the top of the list. And the proportion of voters identifying with Democrats versus Republicans has widened to 51-33 per cent.
Even those who believe the race will be as narrowly settled as the last two agree that the Republican party faces a probable meltdown in all the other elections that will be staged in November.
“This election is Obama’s to lose,” says a senior Republican strategist who is not working for the McCain campaign. “Of course anything can happen – events could overturn the climate of this race. But if you look at their strengths I would say a large Obama victory is more likely than a narrow victory for McCain. You can rule out a large McCain victory.”
Because he is black, many still treat Mr Obama as the underdog. Were he white and all other things were the same, Mr Obama might be seen as a stronger favourite. Opinion polls reflect this discrepancy. While the Democrats as a party have an 18-point lead over the Republicans, Mr Obama’s poll advantage over Mr McCain is just 5.8 per cent, according to the poll average by Real Clear Politics.
But a breakdown suggests that Mr Obama’s lead is more significant than that. For example, Mr Obama is ahead of Mr McCain in his most vulnerable swing states of Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania while drawing almost even with Mr McCain in Republican-leaning swing states such as Florida and Virginia. In-Trade, the online betting site that has a far better record this year than the pollsters, gives Mr Obama a 64 per cent chance of winning.
In addition, Mr Obama’s campaign is as well-managed as Mr McCain’s appears to be in disarray. The latter is on his third or fourth campaign manager depending on how you define the job. There has been speculation that he may appointment of Mike Murphy, a controversial Republican strategist, to a senior role on the campaign, Mr Murphy played down the idea on Tuesday.
In contrast, Mr Obama’s two key senior figures – David Axelrod, his senior strategist, and David Plouffe, his campaign manager – have been in place since the start. The two Davids have recently been supplemented by a string of hirings from Hillary Clinton’s campaign in what has proved a far less awkward merger than many had feared.
“I am very impressed with the campaign Obama has run – it is one of the most thoughtful and intelligent in American history,” said Jim Leach, a former Republican congressman, now head of the Harvard Institute of Politics. “I would caution against any big predictions because we have a long way to go and Obama still has many cultural obstacles to overcome. But the economy is so stuck and foreign policy is so awkward that it could point to a big Obama victory. That is a real possibility.”
Mr Obama is also aided by a single-minded hunger for victory. In the last 10 days he has come under attack for a series of policy shifts. These include his vote for a bill that renewed George W. Bush’s eavesdropping powers as well as U-turns on public financing, gun owners’ rights and his decision to back Mr Bush’s office for faith-based charities.
Many liberals were disappointed by Mr Obama’s indication last week that he would “refine” his pledge to withdraw all US combat troops from Iraq within 16 months. The candidate’s clarification did little to mollify them. But what is disquieting to liberals has proved heartening to centrists.
“If you look at the leads Obama has built on the economy and healthcare, then he goes into this election with a big advantage,” says Tad Devine, a veteran Democratic operative.
“John McCain has had a hard time sustaining his reputation as a maverick because he supports Bush on all the big issues – foreign policy, tax cuts and healthcare. This is way too early to be confident but the odds for an Obama victory are growing.”