What McCain Didn't Do

I am stunned at how obstinately McCain declined to use this convention to respond to the overarching accusation made by the previous week's Democratic convention: that he doesn't "get it" about what American families are going through.

A Democracy Corps survey this week of likely voters in 18 battleground states -- 13 of which went for Bush in '04 -- should scare the pants off of McCain in this regard. (Granted, the survey was conducted during the RNC, and thus before people saw all of it.) By 51 to 41 percent, they see Obama as "on their side" rather than McCain -- including 38 percent saying "much more" so. Bringing the right kind of change: Obama 56-39, including 43 "much more." Would do a better job with the economy: Obama 54-38, incluiding 35 "much better." Standing up to powerful interests, Obama 51-37, with 34 "much better." Raising middle class living standard: 58-32, with 42 "much better."

Overall, the respondents plan to vote for Obama, 49-43. Other recent polls show some of the reddest of these 18 "battleground" states, like Indiana and North Carolina, very close, and some bluer ones, like Minnesota and Iowa, increasingly out of reach for McCain. In my opinion, he needs to do two things to have any hope: scare people silly about the prospect of a President Obama; and convince them that he feels their economic pain and worry, and will do something about it in office.

He put some work into the former task, although I don't think anyone really laid a glove on Obama. (Their main accusation, that he'll raise taxes, won't cut it: polls show that most Americans fully expect Obama to raise their taxes, and it seems to have no impact on their decision.)

 But there was no empathy, and no solutions. Instead, the convention whipped back and forth between two contradictory purposes: bashing Obama and the liberal Democrats, and praising bipartisanship and cross-aisle cooperation.

It was certainly clever of McCain send emissaries out to enflame the partisan divide, so that he could then step forward and offer to end it. But I see no evidence that Americans are particularly looking for a President to "drain the swamp" in Washington, or to heal the bipartisan divide, or reform the system.

Sure, they always want that (as well they should). But every bit of evidence says that it's a low priority for them. And perhaps more importantly, the more you make the election about draining the swamp and reforming Washington the more they'll want first-term Senator Obama, not lifer McCain. The more you make it about willingness to reach across aisles and put compromise over partisanship, the more they want a Democrat, and not another member of the party of George Bush, Tom DeLay, etc.

McCain clearly gets how much the public despises the Republican Party (although, oddly, most of the media punditry doesn't seem to); he pretty much banned the word "Republican" from the floor, didn't let a single member of the administration speak, and could not stress enough how much he likes to go his own way and not the party's.

But he couldn't bring himself to actually feel America's pain, or offer any solutions for it to the undecided voters tuning in -- and today, those voters are reading about unemployment jumping over six percent, the stock market tumbling, and the percentage of homeowners in foreclosure or delinquency hitting yet another new high. McCain's unwillingness to take that seriously is likely, in my opinion, to quickly convince those voters -- just as happened to Bush Sr. in 1992 -- to take their chances on the unknown guy who at least seems like he'll try to do something about it.

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