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Ignore the Corporate Media Spin, McCain is a Weak Candidate

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By Frank Rich, The New York Times

Its a nightmare. It’s the Bataan Death March. It’s mutually assured Armageddon. “Both of them are already losing the general to John McCain,” declared a Newsweek columnist last month, predicting that the election “may already be over” by the time the Democrats anoint a nominee.

Not so fast. If we’ve learned any new rule in the 2008 campaign, it’s this: Once our news culture sets a story in stone, chances are it will crumble. But first it must be recycled louder and louder 24/7, as if sheer repetition will transmute conventional wisdom into reality.

When the Pennsylvania returns rained down Tuesday night, the narrative became clear fast. The Democrats’ exit polls spelled disaster: Some 25 percent of the primary voters said they would defect to Mr. McCain or not vote at all if Barack Obama were the nominee. How could the party possibly survive this bitter, perhaps race-based civil war?

But as the doomsday alarm grew shrill, few noticed that on this same day in Pennsylvania, 27 percent of Republican primary voters didn’t just tell pollsters they would defect from their party’s standard-bearer; they went to the polls, gas prices be damned, to vote against Mr. McCain. Though ignored by every channel I surfed, there actually was a G.O.P. primary on Tuesday, open only to registered Republicans. And while it was superfluous in determining that party’s nominee, 220,000 Pennsylvania Republicans (out of their total turnout of 807,000) were moved to cast ballots for Mike Huckabee or, more numerously, Ron Paul. That’s more voters than the margin (215,000) that separated Hillary Clinton and Mr. Obama.

Those antiwar Paul voters are all potential defectors to the Democrats in November. Mr. Huckabee’s religious conservatives, who rejected Mr. McCain throughout the primary season, might also bolt or stay home. Given that the Democratic ticket beat Bush-Cheney in Pennsylvania by 205,000 votes in 2000 and 144,000 votes in 2004, these are 220,000 voters the G.O.P. can ill-afford to lose. Especially since there are now a million more registered Democrats than Republicans in Pennsylvania. (These figures don’t even include independents, who couldn’t vote in either primary on Tuesday and have been migrating toward the Democrats since 2006.)

For such a bitterly divided party, the Democrats hardly show signs of clinical depression. The last debate, however dumb, had the most viewers of any so far. The rise in turnout and new voters is all on the Democratic side. Even before its deathbed transfusion of new donations, the Clinton campaign trounced the McCain campaign in fund-raising by 2.5 to 1. (The Obama-McCain ratio is 3 to 1.)

On Tuesday, a Democrat won the first round of a special Congressional election in Mississippi, even though the national G.O.P. outspent the Democrats by more than double and President Bush carried this previously safe Republican district by 25 percentage points in 2004. A Gallup poll last week found Mr. Bush’s national disapproval rating the worst (69 percent) for any president in Gallup’s entire 70-year history. For all his (and Mr. McCain’s) persistent sightings of “victory” in Iraq, the percentage of Americans calling the war a mistake (63) also set a new record.

“I’m thrilled to be anywhere with high ratings,” Mr. Bush joked on Monday night, when he popped up like Waldo on the NBC game show “Deal or No Deal” to root for an Army captain who was a contestant. But it turns out that not even cash giveaways to veterans can induce Americans to set eyes on this president. “Deal or No Deal” drew an audience 19 percent below its season average. The best deal for Mr. McCain would be for Mr. Bush to disappear into the witness protection program.

But surely, it could be argued, the mud in the Democratic race will be as much a drag on that party’s eventual nominee as the incumbent president is on the G.O.P. ticket. The counterargument, advanced by Mrs. Clinton in justifying her “kitchen sink” attacks on Mr. Obama, is that the Democrats are better off being tested now by raising all the issues the Republicans will. It’s a fair point. The Wright, Rezko, Ayers, “bittergate” and flag-pin firestorms will all be revived by the opposition come fall. Voters should indeed see how Mr. Obama deals with them, just as Democrats also need to gauge how the flash points of race and gender will play out in the crunch.

The flaw in Mrs. Clinton’s refrain is her claim that she, unlike her challenger, has already been so fully vetted that her candidacy can offer no more unpleasant surprises. “I have a lot of baggage, and everybody has rummaged through it for years,” she says. Perhaps the delusion that she has a get-out-of-scandal-free card comes from her unexpected endorsement from Richard Mellon Scaife, the nutty Pittsburgh newspaper publisher who once spent a fortune trying to implicate the Clintons in the “murder” of Vince Foster. Or perhaps she thinks Fox News will call off the dogs now that her campaign chairman, Terry McAuliffe, is appearing in network promos endorsing its “fair and balanced” shtick.

But the incessant praise for Mrs. Clinton’s resilience as a candidate by Karl Rove, Pat Buchanan and William Bennett reveals just how eager they are to take her on. The dealings of the Bill Clinton post-presidency, barely alluded to by Mr. Obama in his own halting bouts of negative campaigning, have simply been put on hold while the Democrats slug it out. Close observers of The Wall Street Journal, The New York Post and Fox News can already read Rupert Murdoch’s tea leaves, and not just those from China. “Clinton Foundation Secrets” was the title of The Journal’s lead editorial on Friday profiling a rogues’ gallery of shady donors.

Mrs. Clinton’s supporters would argue that she’s so battle-tested she could fend it all off. She’s unlikely to get the chance. For all the nail-biting suspense being ginned up, the probable denouement remains unchanged. When the primary juggernaut finally ends — following picturesque day trips to Puerto Rico and Guam — the superdelegates will likely succumb to the math of Mr. Obama’s virtually insurmountable pledged-delegate total.

There’s also a way that two super-superdelegates, the duo on the Democrats’ last winning ticket, could trigger a faster finale. Bill Clinton could do so by undermining his wife once more with another ill-timed, red-faced eruption. Al Gore could possibly do so with a well-timed endorsement before his party gets mired in yet another Florida recount.

There’s only one way this can end badly, no matter how long it lasts. That would be if the loser, whoever it is, turns sore and fails to rally his or her troops around the winner. It’s all about “the way the loser loses,” as the Illinois Congressman Rahm Emanuel, who is neutral in the race, likes to say. While the Clintons are capable of such kamikaze narcissism, their selfish desire to preserve their own political future, if not the party’s, may be a powerful check on those impulses.

On the way to the finish line, the prolonged primary race, far from destroying the Democratic candidates, may do more insidious damage to the Republican nominee, lulling his campaign into an unjustified complacency. The Democrats should “take their time — don’t rush,” the McCain aide Mark Salter joked last week. Yet his candidate, as the conservative blogger Ross Douthat pointed out, keeps bumping up against a 45 percent ceiling in the polls even now, when the Democrats are ostensibly in ruins.

Mr. McCain is not only burdened with the most despised president in his own 71-year lifetime, but he’s getting none of the seasoning that he, no less than the Democrats, needs to compete in the fall. Age is as much an issue as race and gender in this campaign. Mr. McCain will have to prove not merely that he can keep to the physical rigors of his schedule and fend off investigations of his ties to lobbyists and developers. He also must show he can think and speak fluently about the domestic issues that are gripping the country. Picture him debating either Democrat about health care, the mortgage crisis, stagnant middle-class wages, rice rationing at Costco. It’s not pretty.

Last week found Mr. McCain visiting economically stricken and “forgotten” communities (forgotten by Republicans, that is) in what his campaign bills as the “It’s Time for Action Tour.” It kicked off in Selma, Ala., a predominantly black town where he confirmed his maverick image by drawing an almost exclusively white audience.

The “action” the candidate outlined in the text of his speeches may strike many voters as running the gamut from inaction to inertia. Mr. McCain vowed that he would not “roll out a long list of policy initiatives.” (He can’t, given his long list of tax cuts.) He said he would not bring back lost jobs, lost wages or lost houses. But, as The Birmingham News reported, this stand against government bailouts for struggling Americans didn’t prevent his campaign from helping itself to free labor underwritten by taxpayers: inmates from a local jail were recruited to set up tables and chairs for a private fund-raiser.

The Democrats’ unending brawl may be supplying prime time with a goodly share of melodrama right now, but there will be laughter aplenty once the Republican campaign that’s not ready for prime time emerges from the wings.

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The NYT is having a wet dream again. Make no mistake about it. A lot of republicans may not vote for McCain but they will vote against the most liberal candidate that has ever run for the president. If your hanging your hopes on reps crossing over to vote for Obama you will be sadly disappointed. If you were running a more moderate candidate then I might agree with the NYT. But given the choice of a middle of the road moderate and an extreme left candidate just who do you think the hard right is going to choose?

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Its weird how every Democratic candidate who runs for president is "the most liberal ever".

Wasn't that the criticism against Kerry in '04?

Kerry was very liberal. When the general election comes one of the things both sides do is to try and draw differences between each other. Thats just the politics of a presidential election. When I refer to Obama as the most liberal ever I am talking about his voting record in the senate. In that context he is "the most liberal ever". He has voted the liberal line in every vote save a few "present" votes on some issues that were very volatile. If you don't believe me then look it up for yourself.

http://www.ontheissues.org/Senate/Barack_Obama.htm

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Yes I've heard that - and there is some criticism of how the determination was arrived at. Is he more Liberal than Hillary? Probably. But the "most liberal ever" - that's just over the top nonsense.

Yesterday, while exploring whether a center-left presidential candidate can win with a progressive policy agenda, the NYT noted:

To achieve the change the country wants, [Obama] says, “we need a leader who can finally move beyond the divisive politics of Washington and bring Democrats, independents and Republicans together to get things done.” But this promise leads, inevitably, to a question: Can such a majority be built and led by Mr. Obama, whose voting record was, by one ranking, the most liberal in the Senate last year? […]

“When you’re rated by National Journal as to the left of Ted Kennedy and Bernie Sanders, that’s going to be difficult to explain,” said Danny Diaz, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee.

And that came shortly after James Dobson issued an alert to his religious right membership:

Sen. Obama was recently named the most liberal U.S. Senator, based on the annual voting analysis by the non-partisan and highly respected National Journal. If he emerges as the Democratic nominee, one of the critical jobs of Focus Action will be to uncover the real Barack Obama — not the feel-good orator who speaks of “change” and “hope,” but the man who would be the most left-wing president in our nation’s history.

And that came shortly after Mark Penn, Hillary Clinton’s pollster and strategist, repeated the right’s talking point.

“Independent and Republican support is diminishing as they find out he’s the most liberal Democratic senator.”

I’d hoped previous efforts to highlight how foolish this might have had an effect, but it appears some highly misleading talking points are harder to knock down than others.

Media Matters’ take was especially helpful.

As Media Matters for America has repeatedly documented, among the votes Obama took that purportedly earned him the Journal’s “most liberal senator” label were those to implement the 9-11 Commission’s homeland security recommendations, provide more children with health insurance, expand federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research, and maintain a federal minimum wage.

Obama himself criticized the Journal’s methodology by noting that it considered “liberal” his vote for “an office of public integrity that stood outside of the Senate, and outside of Congress, to make sure that you’ve got an impartial eye on ethics problems inside of Congress.”

Media Matters has also previously noted that the Journal admitted to having used flawed methodology in the publication’s previous rating of then-Democratic presidential front-runner Sen. John Kerry (MA) as the “most liberal senator” in 2003.

This really isn’t complicated. National Journal argues that some senators weren’t given scores if they missed too many votes. Obama missed a full third of the 99 votes used for the ratings, but that wasn’t enough to disqualify him from the rankings. Why not? Because National Journal’s arbitrary standards, known only to the publication’s editors, say so.

National Journal argues that Obama took the “liberal” approach on 65 out of 66 key votes. There were other senators who cast more liberal votes on more liberal bills, and senators who voted the party line more often than Obama, but that doesn’t matter. Why? Because National Journal’s arbitrary standards, known only to the publication’s editors, say so.

When considering votes, the labels themselves are arbitrary.

Why is, for example, requiring 100% inspections of shipping containers for national security threats a “liberal” position? How is establishing English as the official language a “conservative” position? Is a position “conservative” or “liberal” for cutting subsidies to private business to offer student loans? This study says it is “liberal” to do so, although that position is practically of no difference from Ron Paul’s!

Any rankings system that insists, right off the bat, that Joe Biden is more liberal than Russ Feingold and Bernie Sanders is automatically suspect, but the closer one looks at the process, the more flawed it appears. That National Journal is willing to acknowledge that its John Kerry ranking in 2004 was bogus is hardly reassuring — if the magazine was wrong then, perhaps it’s not quite reliable now?

I still think Brian Beutler’s observation is the right one: “[T]his is philistinism masquerading as social science — it’s the U.S. News College Guide of Washington politics. Journalists ought to understand that. And those of conscience ought to ignore it, or lay it bare, but certainly not feed into it.”

That was true when Brian said it in January, and the rankings look no better now.

http://www.thecarpetbaggerreport.com/archives/15015.html

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But as the doomsday alarm grew shrill, few noticed that on this same day in Pennsylvania, 27 percent of Republican primary voters didn’t just tell pollsters they would defect from their party’s standard-bearer; they went to the polls, gas prices be damned, to vote against Mr. McCain. Though ignored by every channel I surfed, there actually was a G.O.P. primary on Tuesday, open only to registered Republicans. And while it was superfluous in determining that party’s nominee, 220,000 Pennsylvania Republicans (out of their total turnout of 807,000) were moved to cast ballots for Mike Huckabee or, more numerously, Ron Paul. That’s more voters than the margin (215,000) that separated Hillary Clinton and Mr. Obama.

That simply cannot be overlooked. McCain has sealed the deal as their nominee, yet more Republicans voted for another candidate over him than the margin between Hillary and Obama in PA. That is very revealing. The Republican Party isn't as united behind McCain as many people think.

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But as the doomsday alarm grew shrill, few noticed that on this same day in Pennsylvania, 27 percent of Republican primary voters didn’t just tell pollsters they would defect from their party’s standard-bearer; they went to the polls, gas prices be damned, to vote against Mr. McCain. Though ignored by every channel I surfed, there actually was a G.O.P. primary on Tuesday, open only to registered Republicans. And while it was superfluous in determining that party’s nominee, 220,000 Pennsylvania Republicans (out of their total turnout of 807,000) were moved to cast ballots for Mike Huckabee or, more numerously, Ron Paul. That’s more voters than the margin (215,000) that separated Hillary Clinton and Mr. Obama.

That simply cannot be overlooked. McCain has sealed the deal as their nominee, yet more Republicans voted for another candidate over him than the margin between Hillary and Obama in PA. That is very revealing. The Republican Party isn't as united behind McCain as many people think.

Sure it can. Once it was assured that McCain was the nominee reps crossed over to vote to keep the dems fighting. There will be very few reps voting for Obama. Rest assured of that. I mean why would they? If reps are dissatisfied over McCain because he isn't conservative enough why would they vote for someone that isn't conservative at all? Think about it. Get a good mailer for your Dilbert cel ready. Obama will not win despite what you think.

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But as the doomsday alarm grew shrill, few noticed that on this same day in Pennsylvania, 27 percent of Republican primary voters didn’t just tell pollsters they would defect from their party’s standard-bearer; they went to the polls, gas prices be damned, to vote against Mr. McCain. Though ignored by every channel I surfed, there actually was a G.O.P. primary on Tuesday, open only to registered Republicans. And while it was superfluous in determining that party’s nominee, 220,000 Pennsylvania Republicans (out of their total turnout of 807,000) were moved to cast ballots for Mike Huckabee or, more numerously, Ron Paul. That’s more voters than the margin (215,000) that separated Hillary Clinton and Mr. Obama.

That simply cannot be overlooked. McCain has sealed the deal as their nominee, yet more Republicans voted for another candidate over him than the margin between Hillary and Obama in PA. That is very revealing. The Republican Party isn't as united behind McCain as many people think.

Sure it can. Once it was assured that McCain was the nominee reps crossed over to vote to keep the dems fighting. There will be very few reps voting for Obama. Rest assured of that. I mean why would they? If reps are dissatisfied over McCain because he isn't conservative enough why would they vote for someone that isn't conservative at all? Think about it. Get a good mailer for your Dilbert cel ready. Obama will not win despite what you think.

They're more likely to stay at home. Either way it doesn't help McC, HC or BO if disillusioned Reps or Dems decide to boycott the election.

If nothing else that might make the youth vote more important this time around.

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Over a quarter of a million new registered Democrats in PA alone....the general election is going to be full of surprises...for some. They won't know what hit 'em.

Your right, and it's you thats going to be surprised.

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