Monthly Archives: October 2008

live blogging the 3rd debate

Late start — sorry!

great format – this is the best exchange we’ve had so far.

btw, Joe the plumber is the brother in law of Joe Sixpack.  When they get together, however, the plumbing really gets a workout…

9:20 – profligate ways?  Joe the plumber doesn’t understand this…

Obama is looking uncomfortable here.

Finally McCain is learning how to focus on his message.  Ignore Schieffer – push the mortgage plan!

I’m amazed McCain hasn’t mentioned earmarks yet, not to mention the projector!

Never mind.

9:24 – Nice comeback finally about “not running against Bush”.  McCain has been doing his homework.

btw, I understand that Americans are angry. And they are hurting.

9:26 Tort reform?  Clean coal technology?  (McCain better come back with Biden’s quote here…)

Hmm…. there’s a chance here that McCain has an opening to finally distinguish himself from Bush.  And an attack on Obama.

Here comes Ayers!

9.28.  And it’s on the table!  Let’s see how they handle this. Remember, the women’s vote rides in part on this….

Obama looks uncomfortable, and John is giving no quarter.  Nice touch on the advertising disparity.

But they are both keeping Ayers off the table despite Schieffer’s opening. Smart move in my book.

Well, Obama is not going to repudiate LEwis.   Boxed in a bit on this one, I think.

Bad move by Obama. Don’t sink into this!  Stay on the high road!  McCain is ready to pounce – you can see it.

And he pounces!  “I’m not going to stay hear and listen to you bad mouth the United States of America!”

McCain is winning this section. Obama needs to return to the economy.   Obama don’t do it – don’t talk about Ayers! NOoooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!

Same for Acorn.  Repudiate them both, and move on.  Stop talking about them!

I can’t believe Obama is letting this go on – how could he walk into this?  Move on Barack!

9:44.  this is a tricky question.  If McCain handles it right, and Obama is not careful it could turn into an Obama vs. Palin experience issue.

(btw – Jack Goodman notes the lapel issue – Obama goes to bed with it on now.)

Obama has to be more aggressive – he needs to attack Palin on troopergate.

Schieffer forces the issue, and sets the trap. Let’s see if McCain springs it – it’s an obvious setup.

When did Biden become a liability?  Obama takes the high road, ignores Palin. On the whole, maybe the smart move as I read your comments.  What’s the focus group doing, btw?

9:50.  Back to the issues.  Energy. I’m surprised McCain doesn’t bring up Palin and drilling.

Ok, Obama brings it up instead.  Here comes a winning issue for McCain- Joe the plumber likes drilling. Drill, baby, drill!

Trade – nice segue here by Obama. This is a winning issue for him in the swing states.

But McCain doesn’t miss the drilling opening!  But I can’t believe he wants to campaign on free trade.  Is this a winning issue for him?  And was that last line necesssary – it came across as pretty harsh.  It makes Obama look more presidential I think…

automakers – hasn’t Obama already won Michigan?  is he criticizing Detroit? What’s he up to?

McCain is certainly not missing any chance to drive home his talking points even if they aren’t part of the question.

Health care:  this is another issue of concern to women in particular…Is Obama connecting on this?

Joe the Plumber!   Hell no, he’s not paying any fine!

John is smirking.  Does he have another attack line ready?

Finally, Obama goes on attack on McCain’s health care.  Nice rebuttal here, I think.

Cosmetic surgery and transplants?  Did McCain just equate the two?

SEnator government!  Very nicely done!

This is really a good exchange.

(yes, Schieffer writes the questions in consultation with many people).

Roe v. Wade and the justices.  McCAin was doing well until those last two sentences. What did he say, exactly – a litmus test or not?

Another nice exchange. they disagree and are spelling out the disagreements for voters.

Repeat after me: women are the swing voters in this election.  Obama is no fool.

Ok, this is red meat for the partisans.  Most Americans’ views on abortion are very centrist, and their views on this issue are quite settled.  Not sure this is moving anyone in the swing camps.

Nice effort here by Obama to occupy the center ground.  Oh, and a very nice counter by McCain with the adoption story.


Another issue of concern to women.  I don’t think Obama wants to lecture parents.

NOt much disagreement here.

“they left the money behind…” nice touch.   but will McCain attack Obama for spending?  I wouldn’t think so.

Instead, Obama attacks McCain.

McCain does great on vouchers.  but it’s an easy issue.


McCain plays the trust card, but not very smoothly at first, although he finishes strong.

Obama  “the same failed policies” – sure it’s old, but it’s effective.  That is his campaign, in a nutshell.

We want Trig!  Will Cindy shake hands?

Where’s the baby?

Ok, let’s hear it. Remember, we don’t want to know who “won” – we want to know if any voters were changed.

What do you think?

We are now going to be subject to the inevitable focus group feedback… sigh.  Remember my warnings about instant polls, focus groups, etc.  Unless they tell you the demographic weighting, we can’t judge the validity of these polls…Also, who does the spin for each campaign?

Ok, some quick thoughts. I think Chris is right – Obama clearly was focusing on women in the swing states.  He refused to take the bait on Palin which, in retrospect, was a smart move.  He made clear distinctions with McCain on education and health care, two issues of concern to women.  And he, for the most part, tried to stay on the high road.  I thought McCain was on the attack, and he tried to use Palin as much as he could.  But she’s been misused so much in this campaign as an attack person that I’m not sure how effective she is with swing voters, particularly women.  McCain’s best line was in saying that if Obama wanted to run against Bush he should have done so four years ago.  But it’s not clear to me that anything that was said today was enough to take the spotlight away from the economy.  McCain was clearly better prepared than he has been in past debates, but he’s running up against fundamentals that clearly favor Obama.  All Obama has to do is look like he belongs on the stage with McCain – he can even agree with McCain and still benefit.

But I think this was the best debate so far in terms of informing viewers about the differences between the two candidates. It’s really too bad this format wasn’t used for all three debates.  Don’t forget that both candidates still have favorable ratings above 50% – these are two very strong candidates.  We often forget this in the partisan back and forth.

Over 100 comments tonight – great job everyone!  I really appreciate your participation.  Hope everyone had as much fun as I did.   I’ll be on early tomorrow with the post-mortem and the inevitable dissection of the media spin.  Remember, if you go on to Nate Silver’s site, or Daily Kos, or Red State, don’t expect accurate analysis – it’s for the like-minded.  Think of these sites as facebook for politics – not sources of accurate information.

Obama Got the Memo Too


The last two days are a reminder, as we head into tonight’s debate, how hard it is for either candidate to singlehandedly change the fundamentals, particularly the impact of the economy, that are driving this election.  In my last post I suggested that McCain needed to issue an economic policy plan that appealed to middle-class voters in order to reframe the economy in a way that helped his campaign.  He did just that on Tuesday by calling for a reduction in the highest tax rate on long-term capital gains from 15 percent to 7.5 percent in 2009 and 2010, and – in a bid to drum up support from senior citizens – he advocated lowering the tax rates on withdrawals from IRA and 401(k) accounts to 10 percent, the lowest rate, in 2008 and 2009 (this would apply to the first $50,000 withdrawn.)  Early estimates are that this plan may cost more than $50 billion. This is on top of his earlier proposal to use some $300 billion of the $700 billion bailout money to buy up bad mortgages.  The proposals are clearly directed toward lower-income middle class workers and retirees, two key voting blocs in swing states like Florida and Ohio that McCain must hold onto if he is to win this election.

The problem, from McCain’s perspective, is that evidently Obama got the memo too!  On Monday, he preempted McCain by issuing his own set of economic proposals targeting the very same voters.  These included giving businesses that create new jobs tax breaks, freezing bank foreclosures and a limited government-funded public works loan program for state and local governments to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure. Obama also proposed suspending penalties on retirees who begin liquidating their 401(k)’s early if the stock market has bottomed out.

Although there are significant differences in the two candidates’ economic proposals, one can understand if voters who look at the two plans do not move in significant numbers into one camp or the other.  Both contain elements of an economic stimulus package, both target the middle-class and both seek to minimize hardship caused by home foreclosures and shrinking retirement nest eggs.  Both, however, threaten to exacerbate the expected budget deficit by reducing tax revenues flowing into the government. Critics argue that Obama’s plan, with its estimated $60 billion price tag, threatens to throw his budget entirely out of whack and increase an already huge budget deficit.  But McCain’s proposals also create a potential revenue shortfall.

I will leave it to you to parse the details of the dueling economic policy proposals. I do not mean to dismiss their substantive significance. Instead, my broader point is to remind you why political scientists find little evidence of campaign effects, and why forecast models issued in August are often quite accurate.  As we see this last week, one candidate’s attempt to frame issues in ways that benefit his election chances begat a counter effort via an opposing frame. These efforts often negate one another.

It is important to remember this as we head into tonight’s final debate and the inevitable spin about what the candidates must accomplish. The odds are that, like the three previous debates, it will have little impact on either candidate’s standing among voters.

Evidently McCain Got the Memo

At least I think he did.

In an earlier post I suggested that McCain needed to reverse direction in his campaign, moving away from the “Obama palling around with terrorists” angle and instead focus on unveiling an economic policy package specifically geared toward middle-class voters.  And that is, in fact, exactly what McCain is doing. First,  based on my watching her most recent campaign event,  Palin has revamped her stump speech, eliminating the attack-by-association element and instead emphasizing her small town roots and touting McCain’s economic plan. As I suggested in that earlier post, that is precisely the best way to maximize her vote-getting appeal.  Leave it to the right wing bloggers to fight the Bill Ayers battle and let the media vet that issue. Personal attacks on Obama gain McCain and Palin little traction with independents

More importantly, McCain is indicating (although reports are conflicting) that he may introduce a new (or at least reworked) economic policy proposal at Wednesday’s debate. If the reports are accurate (a big if) it  suggests he has learned from his failure to properly prime the media for his rollout of the mortgage buyback plan which he sprung unceremoniously during the second debate, only to see it lost in the backwater of the media horserace coverage regarding who won the debate. (For those of you who missed it, McCain proposed that the federal government buy mortgages in danger of default and refinance them to allow homeowners to stay in their home, at an estimated cost of some $300 billion to taxpayers. It would be paid for using some of the $700 billion Congress recently authorized to spend to ease the credit crunch. Obama opposes the plan as too expensive and a bailout of the home lending industry.) According to a new Rasmussen national telephone survey, 52% of those surveyed actually support McCain’s plan . Thirty-five percent (35%) oppose it. Interestingly, McCain’s buyback program actually receives greater support from Democrats than Republicans; 59% of Democrats think it is a good idea, but only 47% of Republicans do.  Independents are split, with 49% supporting McCain’s plan. More interesting still, 70% of African-Americans actually support it.  This suggests that had McCain teased the buyback plan a bit more effectively, it may have helped him with precisely those voters that he must win over if he is to close the gap in this race, as well as shoring up his standing as someone who can address the economic issues.

If McCain is planning to introduce a new policy in Wednesday’s debate, or tweak or “reissue” existing ones, he would do well to make sure it is the focus of debate coverage rather than expecting the media to highlight it in the immediate post-debate spin.  That means using a page from the Palin debate playbook: look at the camera, ignore the moderator’s question and give the set speech on the economy.  And then do it again.  You betcha!

To be sure, it is asking a lot to think McCain can use the final debate to shift the electoral terrain in his favor.  There doesn’t seem to be very many proposals to ease the current credit crunch that a) have broad support and b) haven’t already been discussed in one form or another. And it is McCain’s own party that remains most skeptical of most government-based prescriptions, such as the mortgage buyback program, designed to ease the current financial crisis. So beyond touting elements of his existing economic policy proposals, including the mortgage buyback program, it’s not clear what if any proposal McCain has to offer that would signify a major change in how the government is trying to deal with this issue or that would allow him to regain some electoral footing on the economic terrain.  It may be that he is better off using the debate to contrast his economic program with Obama’s.  In particular, Obama has gained quite a bit of mileage by touting his tax cuts, thus out-Republicanizing the Republicans on an issue they usually own.  McCain may want to focus on the budgetary implications of Obama’s policy proposals, particularly the shortfall between revenue and spending projections.

A final thought: it would be ironic if a tax-cutting Democratic candidate defeated the Republican candidate largely on the perception among voters that the Democrat is better able to handle the economy!  Maybe this is a realigning election after all….

Who Will Win the Women’s Vote?

 I’ve been watching online the stump speeches of Obama, McCain, Biden and Palin in the last 2 weeks. Of particular interest has been the audience backdrop to these talks. In Obama’s case, his stage is filled with women – predominantly middle-aged white women – as he stumps in states across the Midwest. It is not by accident. Four years ago George Bush defeated John Kerry largely on the strength of gains he made among white women voters since the 2000 election. Although Kerry won the overall women’s vote, 51-48%,  largely on the strength of overwhelming support among black women who went for him 90-10% (they were 6% of the vote), Bush won among white women, 55-44% (they were 41% of the overall vote) and among married women 55-44%. All told, between 2000 and 2004, Bush gained 5% among white women, 6.5% among Latina women, and even 4% among African-American women. In short, if there was a demographic group that gave Bush his margin of victory in 2004, it was women. Why? In a word: terrorism. Four years ago the campaign largely turned on which candidate was better able to keep the country safe from terrorist attack

Why did this issue disproportionately help Bush among women? There has been a persistent “gender” gap dating to the 1950’s in presidential races, in which the women’s vote varies in statistically significant way from that of men. But that difference in not rooted in those issues commonly cited by the media as of particular concern to women, such as abortion or reproductive rights, equal rights and equal pay, workplace discrimination, pornography or violence again women. Instead the difference seems largely based on women’s greater willingness to support candidates who favor government action to protect the powerless or most vulnerable in society. Interestingly, that meant that women more than men favored the Republican Party – the party of “peace and prosperity” – in the 1950’s. Beginning in the Reagan years, however, that gender dynamic increasingly began to favor the Democratic presidential candidate. In 2004, Bush was able to reduce the size of the gender gap on the basis of his national security credentials, but it has reemerged with a vengeance in this election cycle.

Currently, Obama is running 14% ahead of McCain among women in polling at the national level (all data from the latest Rasmussen tracking poll), while McCain holds a slight 2% advantage among men. So although Obama’s support among men has gone up from what Kerry received, so too has his support among women. If McCain is going to close the gap, he needs to maintain his edge among men, but more importantly he needs to shore up his support among women, particularly white, middle-aged working class women – the bitter, bible-thumping, gun-toting voters in states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, North Carolina, Virginia and Florida. Obama understands this, and – as you can see at his stump speeches – he is doing everything he can to expand on Kerry’s standing among women and prevent McCain from cutting into this base. If you listen to Obama’s speeches, he emphasizes education, health care, tax cuts for the middle class, and the economy. The recurring anecdote he uses is the one he effectively raised during the second debate regarding how his mother, dying at age 53 from ovarian cancer, was forced to negotiate with insurance companies to prove this wasn’t a preexisting illness thus voiding insurance coverage. This is something that resonates with middle-aged women, many of whom are dealing with these very same issues, particularly with aging parents who are confronting similar medical concerns. And it provides a telling contrast with McCain’s emphasis on relying primarily on the private health care system as the basis of medical care in this country.

What about Sarah Palin? Although she draws huge crowds and has proved remarkably effective at reenergizing the Republican base, McCain has used her as his surrogate attack pit bull. This, in my view, is a risky strategy, because it undercuts Palin’s appeal among the very voters – white, middle-class women – that McCain needs to reach. If I’m McCain, I have Palin return to the themes that proved so successful early in her campaign: the van-driving, PTA-attending, hockey Mom who took on the political establishment and broke down the glass ceiling. She needs less pit bull, and more lipstick if she is to maximize her vote-getting potential among women.

Note that we again see the limits on the ability of campaigns to change the overriding context of a campaign. The economy is the central issue to be framed in this election cycle, and so far Obama is doing exactly what he must to frame this issue in a way that appeals to women voters and to counter McCain’s efforts to cut into this group. This is why we rarely see huge campaign effects on presidential elections.

In my next post I’ll address the issue of race. In many of my posts, I take care to point out how the political science perspective often differs from that of the media, or that of the punditocracy. But in many cases I think the media gets the story almost exactly right. For an illustration of this, see today’s article by Kate Zernike in the NY Times on race and the Obama campaign. In my view it is very well researched and generally quite accurate. Here’s the link: