Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Is blue the real color of this election?

I can honestly say that I never believed that this day would come in my lifetime. I can hardly believe that Americans seem to be queuing up to vote a black man into the White House. The sight of middle-aged voters - many of them black themselves - taking the hours needed to queue up to vote is enough to make you weep.

Some of the very latest polls suggest that voters in key states - Florida and Ohio - may be slightly trending towards McCain and John Zogby reckons that it Obama will win it with something a little under 300 electoral college votes rather than the 330+ that looked likely earlier in the week. The long queues indicate that a record turnout is on the cards and it doesn't seem likely that these are voting McCain.

Obama has had two extremely strong ideas pressed into service - he's cornered the use of Change and Hope for his campaign. Either of these would be powerful concepts and have plugged into a genuine demand for change that no Republican candidate could hope to match - MSNBC polls tonight suggest that 78% of the public want change and only 26% approve of George Bush's record. However, they set a high bar for the Obama presidency - he has a lot to do once he wins to justify that level of support, more than support really - this is adulation. Only a few days ago, Obama was addressing a crowd estimated at over 100,000 strong, while McCain couldn't fill the last 500 spaces in a 3200 seat auditorium. Obama has had the benefit of huge funding and a magnificent campaign that McCain was unable to match. Money is usually a reliable indicator of the winner - the candidate with the biggest pot has a habit of winning the presidency.

McCain has had problems with his campaign. He looks old - although you have to admire any septuagenarian who can sustain the pace of a presidential race, especially the punishing final sprint across the country's timezones just ahead of midnight. Chris Rock summed it up when he described McCain as old - not cool old like Jack Nicholson, but old like 'git your ball out of my yard old.' He's failed to paint himself as an agent of change, thanks to his unwavering support for Bush and his steady shift to the right from his previously moderation (he used to be pro-choice, but has changed his views). The great strength of his experience was neutered once he'd picked Palin as his running mate - a decision forced upon him as a sop to the religious right. McCain wanted Joe Lieberman, the semi-detached Democrat, but this was one step too far for the Republicans.

A couple of times I've heard the McCain campaign team using Kennedy as a reference point for Obama and I thought that was an enormously dangerous move on their part - it may energize the Republican base and their innate loathing for the Kennedy clan, but I think that it plays better with a large number of voters (particularly those with memories of Kennedy, as older people vote reliably). In the same vein, I've heard a couple of pro-Obama talking heads make reference to Reagan, which I think plays powerfully with the Reagan Democrats who sustained him through the Republican 80s. I thought that the dramatic half-hour broadcast, simulcast on six national networks, echoed the famous Reagan 'Morning in America' advertisement. To end that quasi-presidential address with a live link to an Obama speech in Florida was pure genius.

Remember that this isn't just about the presidency - it also looks likely that Obama could enter the White House with a majority in both houses of Congress and possibly even a majority able to silence any filibuster. He mustn't squander this, because it probably won't last. He has until the midterms to make any big legislative changes, because after that, he can't rely on having a majority and will then have to look to re-election.

It promises to be an interesting night.

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