Business Times - 01 Jul 2008
Yes, he could!
And that may happen if there's a new conflict in the Gulf before the November election
By LEON HADAR
IT IS not surprising that Barack Obama's supporters, who seem to believe that their candidate can walk on water, greet each other with a winning fist bump these days.
After all, according to the recent opinion polls, Democratic presidential candidate Senator Obama is now the clear front runner in the race for the White House. He is leading in most polls by an average of 6 percentage points. And new polls released last week suggest that he has now a double-digit lead over his rival, Republican presidential candidate John McCain.
Hence a new Newsweek poll puts Mr Obama 15 per cent ahead of Senator McCain while according to a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll, in a two-man contest, 49 per cent of respondents favour Mr Obama while 37 per cent would vote for Mr McCain. If the two leading independent presidential candidates - the Green Party's Ralph Nader and the Libertarian Party's Bob Barr are factored into the race, Mr Obama holds a 15-point edge over Mr McCain.
And the pollsters are also discovering that Mr Obama is beginning to develop a lead in critical 'swing' battleground states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania (where Senator Hillary Clinton had beaten him during the Democratic primaries), Missouri, New Hampshire and Colorado. They note that the Democratic candidate has a better- than-even chance of winning even 'red' states like Virginia, Georgia and North Carolina.
Indeed, Mr Obama has been gradually winning over critical demographic blocs aka Hillary Voters, including women, Hispanics, Catholics, Jews, and blue-collar workers whom he did not have with him during the Democratic primaries against Ms Clinton; these voters may love Hillary, but they are not ready to vote McCain in November. Then there are those big dollar signs. Mr Obama has raised a record US$296 million during the campaign, compared to Mr McCain's US$122 million. His decision to opt out of public funding will make it possible for him to allow more funds to flow into his campaign's coffers, most of which he has been raising through the Internet. Mr McCain, who has accepted public funds, will have to abide by the US$89 million restrictive ceiling.
Mr Obama is also benefiting from the tremendous enthusiasm that his candidacy has stirred, especially among young voters where he is leading Mr McCain by a large margin - which explains why Mr Obama's public appearances, where his skills as an orator become evident, look and sometimes sound like a rock concert.
And the young and charismatic Mr Obama is not only this election campaign's 'cool' candidate. When it comes to most domestic social and economic issues, the majority of voters believe that Mr Obama and the Democratic Party would embrace policies that are in line with their interests as members of the middle class, while Mr McCain, reflecting the record of the Republicans and the White House's occupant in the last eight years, is not trusted to handle America's economic problems.
Indeed, the Republican 'brand name' doesn't seem to excite many voters anymore these days, at a time when the Republican policies are seen - rightly or wrongly - as being responsible for America's current economic problems: a frightening mix of recessionary pressures (the housing and financial crises) and inflation (energy and food prices). As a result, more voters identify themselves as Democrats and not as Republicans, and more independent voters are inclined to vote for the Democrats and Mr Obama and not for the Republicans and Mr McCain.
From this perspective, it becomes very difficult to conceive of a scenario in which the attractive Mr Obama - representing an appealing message of change, in a year when most voters believe that their country is moving in the wrong direction - would not defeat Mr McCain, an ageing candidate who represents a reviled political party and is identified with one of the most unpopular presidents in US history.
But even Mr Obama's most enthusiastic supporters admit that their candidate's victory is far from being secured, and that Mr McCain could start pulling ahead of the Democratic candidate - especially if the Republicans could benefit from their use of what could be described as the 'identity' card in a time of war and economic crisis, when nationalism and the fear of the 'other' (with the Muslim terrorist topping the enemy list) remain a potent force among American voters.
Indeed, Barack Hussein Obama remains an enigma to many American voters. Interestingly enough, notwithstanding the extensive media coverage of his close ties to Reverend Jeremiah Wright, more than 10 per cent of Americans still identify Mr Obama as a Muslim. Numerous Internet sites continue to help spread this bit of disinformation. At the same time, the Wright controversy and comments made by his wife Michelle helped to foster the notion that Mr Obama is a 'black nationalist' who hates white people, which runs very much contrary to the message that he represents the age of post-racial politics.
Moreover, Mr Obama's calls for diplomatic engagement with Iran and for a dialogue with the Muslim world has played directly into the efforts by Republican operators to portray the candidate as an 'appeaser' of Muslim terrorists like, you know, Osama; that is, Hussein Obama is a buddy of Osama . . .
That kind of campaign smear has already and clearly had an effect on one demographic group, Jewish voters, who traditionally vote for Democratic candidates.
Many older Jewish voters, who reside in 'swing' states such as Florida, Pennsylvania and Nevada are telling pollsters that they are concerned that Mr Obama is, indeed, a Muslim and/or 'anti-Israeli' and are planning to vote for Mr McCain. It could also affect the attitudes of white men - one of the critical demographic groups among whom Mr Obama is losing.
And when it comes to foreign policy, the Middle East and terrorism, Mr Obama suffers from the perception that he has less 'experience' in these areas than Mr McCain, a former Vietnam War navy pilot who has been serving in Congress for more than two decades.
Hence one of Mr McCain's top political aides, Charles Black, admitted in a recent interview with Fortune magazine that a major terrorist attack on American soil or an international crisis would benefit his candidate, who would then be perceived by voters as someone ready to serve as the nation's commander-in-chief and lead it during a time of war. That could certainly happen if the US and/or Israel decide to attack Iran's nuclear military sites before the November elections, and possibly ignite a new Middle East War.
The Republicans, using their army of Internet warriors, would then challenge the 'average' white American voter: who would you want to lead the US in a war against Iran and Muslim radicals - an inexperienced young man with a strange name who may also be a Muslim, a 'black nationalist' and an 'appeaser' - or a Real American, a tough and experienced (that is, white and Christian) guy like Mr McCain?
Mr Obama's aides hope that this kind of racial-religious campaign is not going to work. Most Americans express strong opposition to the war in Iraq and President Bush's foreign policy that Mr McCain has embraced. And unlike Mr McCain, Mr Obama could demonstrate that his ability to make foreign policy judgments - unlike Mr McCain, he had opposed going to war in Iraq - is more important than the alleged lack of experience. And Mr Obama also has a huge financial war chest and battalions of volunteers who would be ready to counter the Republican smear campaign.
But would that be enough? Keep a watch on developments in the Gulf for the answers.
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