John McCain has been focusing on independent voters of late with his global warming message and attempts to highlight differences with George W. Bush on the economy (by backing a home mortgage bailout) and foreign policy (by stressing multilateralism). Both he and Barack Obama will have their challenges in making the case with independents.
I am as skeptical as the next person when it comes to focus groups (they are self-selecting and sound suspiciously too informed and too sound-bite savvy). But the one described here sounds reasonable. Obama’s biggest problem: convincing them he’s not a wacky Left wing elitist. McCain’s: convincing them he’s not another George W. Bush.
So what does Obama do? He starts wearing that flag lapel pin and throws in a lot of patriotic talk. And if he’s smart he’ll steer clear of Clinton as a VP. According to this focus group, she’s ballot box poison with independents, even if she might calm frayed nerves in the Democratic Party.
And what’s McCain’s best tactic? Lots of YouTube moments of bipartisan praise, stressing his record of making deals with Democrats, some full-out attacks on Bush’s mismanagement of the Iraq war and Katrina, and plenty of appeals on conservative cultural issues.
All this raises a question: What’s the silliest thing each could do?
There has been some buzz that Obama will go after Republican women by using the abortion issue. That, for a candidate who has high negatives among social conservatives and who can easily be painted as an extremist on the issue (e.g. he was quite vocal in his criticism of the Supreme Court’s partial birth abortion ruling, for example), could cause more problems than it solves.
For McCain, it would be relying on his biography to the exclusion of issues (voters do care about their own pocket-book concerns), and allowing his team’s new-found fixation on whining about media coverage to go unchecked (voters don’t care about the media, and working-class independent voters don’t like complainers).