On Wednesday October 22, the Georgetown Law School and GPPI co-hosted a discussion panel on the 2008 election, moderated by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. Over the course of the evening, polestress Celinda Lake and columnists EJ Dionne, Charles Krauthammer, Clarence Page and Byron York described their views on the last two weeks of the campaign.
Everyone agreed that the election was clearly going in Obama’s favor. Lake noted that Obama could deliver on his promise to change the electorate. Krauthammer stated that “even the Democrats can’t blow this election” and that it would take an act of God for that to happen, further pointing out that “at least this year God is a Democrat.” The economy was viewed as the primary reason for Obama’s recent success.
EJ, responding to a question from Wolf regarding an October surprise, stated his belief that there was likely to be no big effect. He based this view on five points: Bush, McCain, Palin, Black September and Obama. Bush is at 25% approval; McCain should have been an ideological maverick; Palin was a catastrophic choice; and Black September refers to the economic downturn. Obama’s crisp and cool economic message stood up well when compared to McCain. EJ did note that there was a narrow path for McCain to succeed if he managed to win Pennsylvania; a situation viewed as unlikely.
To highlight McCain’s difficulties, Byron York looked to Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Iowa, Missouri, Colorado and Nevada. Bush won each of these states and it was unlikely that McCain would repeat in all of them. This situation was due particularly to a lack of enthusiasm and party identification, Bush’s unpopularity, Obama’s massive fundraising, and McCain’s problem with his base. York also stated that, unlike 2004, people believe that it is safe to change the party in power.
Wolf then asked Clarence Page if Obama was ready and if he had overcome any doubts created by his Chicago origins. Page credited David Axelrod’s strategy with Obama’s success. Specifically not getting into an attack campaign, enhancing credibility during debates, and focusing on judgment on issues.
Wolf then moved the discussion to the Bradley effect, about which the panel was divided. Lake believed that the Bradley effect existed, but only for a 2-3% change. EJ doubted the Bradley effect based essentially on the premise that people do not have to be ashamed to be for McCain. Krauthammer considered that the mention of the Bradley effect could be a mechanism to explain a defeat and possibly subtly imply racism. York stated that the flip side of the Bradley effect would be massive black turnout, especially in states like Virginia and North Carolina. Page noted that this election will not answer the question if whether the Bradley effect existed. He also noted that it will be difficult to separate out those who do not vote for Obama because he is black and those who do not vote for McCain because he is old.
The discussion then moved to questions from the audience. The two questions that promoted a lively debate centered on questioning Obama’s patriotism and whether divided government was a viable issue. Regarding patriotism, York stated that while debate on the war was a legitimate topic, Obama gave a speech on patriotism and ultimately patriotism is not open to question nor is it a viable tactic to question it. Page added that questioning Americanism can backfire as it did for Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota this week.
The question of divided government garnered a more lively debate. EJ supported a unified Democrat government, but stated that divided government arguments can work as they did in the ‘90s for House Republicans. Krauthammer believed that if McCain could articulate the goal of divided government, it could gain traction, but doubted that McCain could be effective.
Each contributor provided their closing commentary to the evening, articulating that the race was not over; early voting and ‘get out the vote’ endeavors had just begun. Page noted that the final weekend is where the candidates show their true mettle. Krauthammer stated that even though he did not agree with Obama’s politics, he would be proud of America if an African-American was elected president. York finished the commentary by declaring that issues do not tend to matter, voters choose based on their knowledge of the politician and that “you don’t know what you’re electing this person for.”
Finally, to close the night, Wolf acknowledged that since we were with him, we were all in the Situation Room.