It could hardly get worse for Republicans. With President Bush in the White House, his party will suffer as the result of an unpopular war in Iraq and a declining economy at home.
Still, Sen. John McCain of Arizona could prevail as the GOP’s standard bearer this year. He’s a maverick that could win swing voters in battleground states such as New Mexico.
It was a fluke that the Republicans ended up choosing McCain. The big prize could easily have gone to Mitt Romney or Rudy Giuliani, and if that had happened, the GOP’s chances of winning the presidential election would have evaporated.
McCain’s chief strategy will be to run away from Bush as much as possible. Meanwhile, Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee, will try to paint the Arizona senator as a Bush clone. That can only benefit the Illinois senator because Bush’s approval rating is hovering around 30 percent.
Obama’s strategy might work. Indeed, McCain has long supported Bush’s war in Iraq and praised the president’s economic policies. And he now supports the continuation of the Bush tax cuts, which he voted against years ago.
But McCain has gone his own way on other issues. He promises to pass measures to reduce the effects of global warming, in marked contrast to Bush’s inaction. For years, he promoted campaign finance reform, much to the chagrin of his own party. And while he supported the war, he has long criticized its execution.
So what argument will McCain use against Obama? He’s already pointing out that his rival doesn’t have much experience. While McCain has been in Congress for a quarter century, Obama has served in the Senate for less than four years, spending much of that time running for president. Before that, he was a state senator.
Using the experience card may backfire for McCain. Obama could return fire by saying that McCain is an old Washington hand, while Obama is an agent of political change. Besides, if the 71-year-old McCain focuses on experience, that could draw attention to his age. Obama is a quarter century younger than McCain, young enough to be his Republican opponent’s son.
President Reagan, at 69, was considered old when he ran for president in 1980, but he didn’t have much experience. He talked change, and that’s what voters hungered for. So they didn’t much care that he would be the oldest person to become president.
Democrat Hillary Clinton tried to defeat Obama by focusing on his lack of experience, but her strategy failed because voters were looking for change, not a status-quo insider.
Anyway, voters often pick the candidate with less experience. Remember the resume-heavy Vice President Al Gore lost to the lightly experienced Gov. George W. Bush in 2000. And what was Abraham Lincoln’s experience before he became president? Just two years in the House of Representatives.
So if McCain turns this election into experience vs. change, he’ll probably lose bigtime. So he may to have a dramatic break with Bush if he wants to win. Or Bush will have to go into hibernation, which may be pretty easy given the little attention he gets these days.
Obama has his vulnerabilities as well. For one, he’s got to deal with every utterance of his former preacher, Jeremiah Wright. In his sermons, he talks pointedly about the struggles black Americans face, at one point shouting, “God damn American.” That wasn’t Obama speaking, but the senator has called the man his mentor.
Unfortunately, such statements may enrage some, especially whites who are already nervous about having a black man as president. Racism still exists, and that will work in favor of McCain.
Still, it’s a bad year for Republicans.
David Giuliani is managing editor of the Las Vegas Optic. He may be reached at 425-6796 or firstname.lastname@example.org.