Halperin: image is everything in campaign

As voters go to the polls today in Kentucky and offer mail-in ballots in Oregon, Mark Halperin reminds us that the final showdown comes mainly to one thing: image.

HALPERIN’S TAKE: Who Would Win a McCain-Obama General Election– And Why?




Successful presidential campaigns are primarily about one thing — controlling a candidate’s public image. The contender who does a better job of projecting positive traits — and minimizing the portrayal of negative ones — wins.

One example: John Kerry became a waffling, wind-surfing Frenchman in 2004 — not a war-hero, principled fighter for change — and lost, although President Bush was pushing forward with an increasingly unpopular war and his approval rating was in decline.

Even as Senator Clinton fights on, we are already seeing the Obama and McCain campaigns, as well as agents promoting the Republican or Democratic parties, trying to emphasize each candidate’s positives and define the opposition in negative terms (in some cases, by exploiting scurrilous, unfounded or overtly false ideas).

So beyond “McCain is just like Bush” and “I question Obama’s readiness,” prepare to be deluged with the “good McCain” and “bad McCain,” the “good Obama” and “bad Obama”— over and over again:

Good McCain:

War hero
Funny and affable
Able to nurture and benefit from bipartisan relationships
Media-friendly (popular with the press/charming on talk shows and comedy programs)
Accessible and relatable

Bad McCain:

Angry and volatile
War monger
Represents the equivalent of a third term for Bush
Ignorant/out of touch about the economy
Washington insider
Ethically challenged/hypocritical

Good Obama:

Unifying (with a broad appeal to Democrats, Republicans, and independents, and a personified promise to the rest of the world)
Representative of change (forward-looking/peace advocating)

Bad Obama:

Unpatriotic (ties to Reverend Wright/reluctance to don a flag pin)
Muslim (not true about Obama, and only “bad” in the sense that some would try to appeal to prejudice by suggesting that Obama is not a Christian)

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