Since I live in the newly swing state of Virginia and specifically in very swinging Loudoun County, and have voted here in every election since I could vote, allow me to point out what would be obvious to anyone who lived here: the amount of enthusiasm for John McCain among the people who get voters to the polls and determine whether this county is red or not is almost nonexistent.
Part of it’s ideological, in the sense that many of the conservative activists in Virginia are more Lou Dobbsian than you might expect (there’s a reason Huckabee beat McCain by a 2-1 margin in Roanoke), but it says something that I can’t even find as many volunteers in this county as George Allen had in the final days after Macaca – the volunteer base was one of the reasons Allen made a late surge, making up a good deal of ground, and still almost won here running against a self-styled centrist Democrat in a year that was terrible for Republicans. Allen only lost the county in 2006 by 7,000 votes, less than 3 tenths of a percent. His total margin of loss statewide was 10,000 votes, less than .5 tenths of a percent. In other words: Loudoun alone determined Webb’s victory.
The Obama campaign has deluged us with smiling volunteers, most bussed in from other places. I got a notebook-sized book, with a hand-written message, left at my door while I was at church the other day. It is the finest piece of political literature I’ve ever seen. It’s gorgeous. It’s beautiful. All flowing Gotham font and perfect image selection. It makes Kitten look like the most moderate, experienced Democrat you’ve ever seen. You want to put it on your coffee table.
McCain’s people left a torn door hanger shoved against my door with a picture of him looking like he was constipated. Knocking on doors on a Sunday morning – well, that’s fine for the Democrats, but for the Republicans? Please.
This year, the Republican Party selected the most ideologically moderate, media-friendly nominee of my lifetime. They picked him because, like Dole in 96, he was the guy who deserved his shot. They picked him because they thought the fact that he’d made a career out of stabbing his party in the back would befriend him to the horde or make him difficult for the New York Times to attack.
They thought wrong. As Mark Salter expresses it in what should be held as THE classic rant of this cycle to Jeffrey Goldberg – and it’s all true! – it’s not McCain who’s changed, it’s the media that’s covering him.
JG: What do you think of the assertion that McCain is exploiting his P.O.W. experiences?
MS: I find that very offensive. Barack Obama gets to tell his story why? Because it’s more potent?
JG: How are you feeling about the press these days?
MS: Look, I think, starting with the Democratic primary, there has been a different standard for Obama than there has been for any candidate running against Barack Obama. And maybe this should have set off more warning bells with me. I think much of the media has a thumb on the scale for Obama. I think the thumb has been there the entire time. There are many honorable exceptions, I don’t mean to tar everybody, but I think there’s one standard for us, and one standard for Obama. He has run more negative ads than McCain has run ads. They run from the quite misleading to the blatantly untrue.
Once he stopped jabbing GOPers in the eye with a sharp stick and started running as the nominee of a party, the media reacted:
JG: Looking back, do you think there was something false about your salad days with the press?
MS: No, I’m trying not to draw general lessons about the press or us or the meaning of life out of all of this. Otherwise I’d despair. I think the media is driven by a need to see this history happen. And I think they’ve rationalized it, they think they’re on the level with McCain, that he’s not the old McCain. But he is the old McCain. He just doesn’t know what happened to the old press corps. They rationalize a reason to go get him. Every Obama attack they carry. Every McCain criticism of Obama they rush to blunt even before Obama does.
JG: Putting aside Palin, is one of the problems you’re facing the fact that there’s no foreign policy discussion right now?
MS: Iraq was supposed to be the issue of the campaign. We assumed it was our biggest challenge. Funny how things work.
The Republicans ignored the fact that with the exception of the surge, John McCain has been out of step with the base about just about every policy he’s chosen to stick his neck out to support. He’s just burned too many bridges along the way to this moment. If you don’t get the people who can deliver 2,000 home schoolers on 24 hours notice to support you, you can’t win this state.
Nowhere is McCain’s wrongness about one of his key issues, the public financing of elections, going to hurt him more than in the Virginia TV market – Sunday afternoon, over the course of multiple football games, I saw what felt like 75 Obama ads – three separate ones, alternating, repeating every commercial break – messages of fix your health care, cut your taxes, McCain is a fraud. I did not see a single McCain ad. Not one.
The public financing gambit from McCain was always based on the proposition that, with the right candidates in either party, an agreement of restrictions on the weapons at hand would be good for democracy. It would enable both candidates to engage in a dozen town hall meetings, which McCain loves, and spread their message in limited and less negative form. But when you count “1, 2, 3″ and drop all your weapons but a Bowie knife, and the other guy is standing there with a Surface to Air Missile on his shoulder, saying “Eh, I changed my mind,”, well, you’re pretty much screwed.
Winning Northern Virginia exurb voters, like winning most elections outside of an urban environment, is done by having volunteers, activists, and targeted GOTV efforts. It is done through massive mobilization and organization and, on a few key policy points, running well-designed and well-targeted ads (Obama has the luxury of not having to target at all – he’s doing the sledgehammer method, running ads on every channel I watch, every sporting event, every comedy show, even late night cartoons). I was stunned at the number of mobilizers, organizers, and longtime volunteers who were sitting this McCain ride out completely before the Palin pick (which energized the volunteer base like nothing else – her rallies are easily twice the size of his). And this isn’t just true in Virginia. But those are the stories for the morning after.
This morning, this showed up in my inbox. I walk to this park every week, sometimes twice. And on Wednesday, Barack will be coming to town.
This Wednesday, October 22nd, please join Barack Obama in Leesburg, where he will talk about his vision for creating the kind of change we need.
Change We Need Rally
with Barack Obama
Ida Lee Park
50 Ida Lee Drive, NW
Wednesday, October 22nd
Gates open: 3:00 p.m.
Program Begins: 5:30 p.m.
This event is free and open to the public. Tickets are not required; however, an RSVP is strongly encouraged. Space is available on a first-come, first-served basis.
For security reasons, do not bring bags and please limit personal items. No signs or banners permitted.
Obama’s about to head to Hawaii to see his ailing grandmother – poor gal, the one he called a “typical white person” – but a rally in Leesburg, VA, a place that elects a solidly moderate GOPer in Representative Frank Wolf like clockwork every two years, is more important.
The Lesson: The Media is a fickle creature. Grudging respect is not a basis for a successful electoral campaign. And running Old and Busted against the New Hotness is a whole mess of Fail.