I want to thank all the folks from the McCain and Obama campaigns who contributed here the past two weeks during the conventions. Good chance to hear the different views. The Obama folks stuck around until today because last Monday was a holiday and we were slow loading posts up. But now it’s all over and regular programming will resume.
Still, despite today’s announcement, all the back and forth, and although there is some debate among Democrats and among education reformers more generally I still don’t see education emerging as a major issue in this race. For starters it’s not an especially compelling single-issue for voters. Although I haven’t seen the question asked yet in this cycle, in general fewer than 10 percent of voters say that they’d vote for/against a presidential candidate solely because of their educational views in past elections. In other words people say they care about it but they don’t vote it in national elections. In addition, this year in different ways the issue works against each candidate at least as much as it works for them. But, the election looks like it will remain close for at least a while, at least in the national polling, so almost every major issue does matter somewhat.
In terms of the election more generally, the Eduwife and I watched Obama’s acceptance speech live in Denver at Invesco and while in my view it wasn’t one of his best speeches, it clearly made the case for change. The night was, however, a political moment unlike any other I’ve seen and quite a remarkable and moving one in the context of this country’s racial struggles. But, looking at the national numbers, Obama still seems to have not yet cleared the acceptance hurdle with a lot of voters and that’s his task between now and November. Uncertainty, however, is an easier task in politics than opposition.
McCain’s speech on the other hand seemed like a huge missed opportunity for him in what is still an environment structurally favoring Democrats. He made a passionate case for his willingness to fight for his country in every way, but offered little by way of specifics about how he would do that. Even his education lines, which were among the more specific-laden of the speech, didn’t explain how he’d persuade Congress to work with him. Say what you want about George Bush, he did succeed in bringing his party to heel on education, something that is not easy. Just ask his dad.
Consequently, by making an argument for change without specifics I don’t think McCain pivoted from his party as much as it appears now and likely opened the door for a lot of moderates and independents to say to themselves over the next two months that while John McCain is a great American and a genuine hero, he just doesn’t seem to be a good fit for the job of president in these times. In other words, while they dread the prospect of his concession speech they dread more a victory address and four more years anything like the last four. That soft pushback, rather than some sort of vilification or outright rejection of John McCain is his vulnerability.
That’s good news for Obama who can drill on the issues between now and November, take advantage of a favorable issue and political environment, and not have to win a hero contest with McCain or an excitment contest with Governor Palin. But, still, despite all the intensity around our little issue of schools, it matters relatively little to the bigger dynamics that the race will turn on between now and Election Day.
By the way, as an aside, we’re hearing a lot about “Wal-Mart moms” this cycle, especially in the wake of the Palin pick. But a bigger split, now likely to be driven by the Palin pick, is between Cabelas-voters and L.L. Bean-voters. And that’s one where Democrats should tread carefully as Obama obviously gets based on how he’s handling this. If you’re familiar with L.L. Bean and saying, “Cabelas, I don’t know anyone who shops at Cabelas”, well, that’s the point. Cabela’s revenue outpaces L.L. Bean’s by about 30 percent.