Day 1, Sunday November 2: David versus Goliath
Our prominent 2008 Presidential Election Week delegation, led by former Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok, has arrived to a Washington DC that is waiting with baited breath for Tuesday’s elections. Being a predominantly Democratic city, most of its inhabitants are afraid to even think of an Obama victory Tuesday, afraid of being disappointed. The polls seem to give them no reason to be worried but worried they are nonetheless. Not so Joe Trippi, CEO of Trippi & Associates, whom the delegation had dinner with Sunday evening. He has worked on many Democratic campaigns including as a senior advisor to the 2008 presidential campaign of John Edwards. He predicts a massive victory: Senator Obama will be elected the next President of the United States. It will not even be close in popular votes; Obama should win with a majority of hundreds of thousands if not millions of votes which should translate to well over 300 votes in the Electoral College, where 270 are needed to win. He is surprised (even calls it a miracle) that the McCain campaign has been able to stay competitive, the Republicans having such an unpopular president and unpopular war. It is, however, the financial crisis that has worked the most favorably for the Obama campaign. After all, on economic issues the voters tend to favor the Democratic Party. Also, the Internet and new technologies are a big factor in Obama’s success! They are the cause of an enormous shift in power. The old media, television, broadcast news, corporations etc. used to tell people what they had to think. New media has shifted this power to basically anybody, truly a power coming from the bottom. Trippi likened the old media to Goliath whereas new media is creating an army of Davids. What the Obama campaign has cleverly done is hand out slingshots to these Davids.
According to Trippi, McCain will need to win Pennsylvania to have any shot at winning. And if he wins, it will only be with a majority of just a few votes in the Electoral College, which would be a great shock that no-one will understand.
Wim Kok (left) and Joe Trippi
Our second guest of the evening was Terry Nelson, founder and principal of the Crosslink Strategy Group. He is a prominent Republican strategist who served as National Political Director for Bush-Cheney 2004 and lead strategist to John McCain’s presidential campaign in its early stages in 2007. He admits that the Republican Party was always going to face a difficult election. Only once was an incumbent party able to win a third term, when Bush Sr. won after two terms of the Reagan administration. Plus, the Republicans faced a difficult environment with low approval ratings for President Bush and only 6-8% of the American people believing ‘the country is on the right track’ (historically low figures). However, McCain was the only candidate who had a shot at winning: he was consistently Republican enough but also different enough to have a shot. Then there was the choice of Sarah Palin as Running Mate which, according to Nelson, was both good and bad. There was a large enthusiasm gap between the Obama supporters and the McCain supporters. The Palin pick changed that, which was a positive development and as a result the Republicans were able to narrow the gap in the polls. In the interim, however, concern over the economy worsened and this affected the Republican Party negatively and they now face an ever steeper uphill battle.
Nelson does warn that much will depend on the actual turn-out on Election Day. The Democratic Party stands to gain much from what are called ‘expanded likely voters’ such as African Americans and new voters. But will they vote on Tuesday? On Election Day, the first to close the polling stations are Virginia and Indiana. In 2004, they were of no concern to the Republicans, Bush never even went there. McCain, however, has to fight for them! Then there are Florida and Ohio, again McCain is on the defensive there knowing that a Republican has never won the elections without winning Ohio. But, “history is a guide, not a predication”. He agrees with Trippi that Pennsylvania will be an important battleground state. However, the race is tightening. In his opinion, most undecided voters are Bush ’04 voters who have not yet bought into John McCain.
Nelson has also spotted major changes with regard to new media. Cyberblogs, for instance, now have become a major force in driving news. Also, video posting web sites such as Youtube are now playing a major role. The McCain campaign e.g., posted videos of Mitt Romney on Youtube in some of which he was saying one thing on a certain topic and something completely different on the same topic in others. These types of communication platforms have had a significant impact on the flow of news. He reiterates, however, that these are elections about the economy. Another of McCain’s weak points is that even though he has distanced himself from the current administration by saying he disagrees with President Bush (whereas, according to Nelson, he should have said he would have chosen a different path), he has been unable to articulate what that different path is.
After having been asked by one of the delegation members about Sarah Palin’s influence on the elections (is she costing the Republican campaign more votes then winning) Nelson replies that she has been an effective candidate, even one of the most significant candidates since World War II. The Republican campaign did make a mistake in focusing too much on her being ‘small town’; they should have focused more on McCain. Another mistake made was that McCain had said he would pick the most experienced candidate and that he would put ‘country first’. But he put politics first. Nonetheless, had he picked anybody else, it would all have been over already. She was a risky choice, but a worthwhile risk. Trippi agrees with Nelson and even calls her a ‘brilliant pick’, she appeals to exactly those people that are having problems connecting with Obama. According to Trippi she is the closest an average American has come to reaching the White House in over a century.
Another question by the delegation, to Joe Trippi: have election ‘means’ become more important than the candidate? Trippi: politics had become 30 second TV advertisements; anything can be ‘faked’ in 30 seconds and usually in those 30 seconds they don’t talk about real policies. Take Youtube for instance, 8 million people watched a 40 minute speech by Obama. You have to realize that in order to count on Youtube as having been viewed, all of it has had to have been watched. Also, Youtube is free, if you count the number of minutes that viewers watched Obama content, it would have cost the Democratic campaign $47 million in the old media. To compare, McCain videos watched would only have amounted to $ 1.5 million. Another point Trippi makes is that commercials are forced on the viewers, Youtube is a choice!
With this as an introduction into the week ahead, I’m sure the delegation is very eager to find out what choice the American people will make come Tuesday.