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Why Isn’t Everything Swell?

Mickey Kaus pleads confusion as to why Barack Obama is down in a couple of polls. He’s kidding, right?

Obama had a few weeks from political hell — the major switcheroo on campaign financing, the Wesley Clark blunder, the media ripping Obama for flip-flopping, the gap between the reality in Iraq and Obama’s policy, and McCain’s relatively successful gambit on energy policy. Obama simply hasn’t controlled the campaign narrative for a while. And he’s been deprived of the medium in which he does best: mass rallies where he operates with a script of soaring rhetoric.

Obama’s message in the post-nomination period has been obliterated. He has yet to come up with much of anything new thematically or programmatically. The gap has been filled by the increasingly critical media and a better focused McCain team. Just ask Bob Beckel’s son.

But Newsweek’s explanation for why Obama suffered a 12-point swing in its poll is rather insightful:

Obama’s rapid drop comes at a strategically challenging moment for the Democratic candidate. Having vanquished Hillary Clinton in early June, Obama quickly went about repositioning himself for a general-election audience–an unpleasant task for any nominee emerging from the pander-heavy primary contests and particularly for a candidate who’d slogged through a vigorous primary challenge in most every contest from January until June. Obama’s reversal on FISA legislation, his support of faith-based initiatives and his decision to opt out of the campaign public-financing system left him open to charges he was a flip-flopper. In the new poll, 53 percent of voters (and 50 percent of former Hillary Clinton supporters) believe that Obama has changed his position on key issues in order to gain political advantage. More seriously, some Obama supporters worry that the spectacle of their candidate eagerly embracing his old rival, Hillary Clinton, and traveling the country courting big donors at lavish fund-raisers, may have done lasting damage to his image as an arbiter of a new kind of politics. This is a major concern since Obama’s outsider credentials, have, in the past, played a large part in his appeal to moderate, swing voters. In the new poll, McCain leads Obama among independents 41 percent to 34 percent, with 25 percent favoring neither candidate. In June’s NEWSWEEK Poll, Obama bested McCain among independent voters, 48 percent to 36 percent.

Now, polls go up and polls go down. So none of this is to say that the shift in a couple of polls will show up in others, or that this is the start of a more permanent shift in the race. But there are plenty of explanations why, after weeks of so-so performance, the polls are catching up with Obama. The test for the McCain team will be whether it can build on this mini-momentum, couple it with a stronger positive economic message, and hold down unforced errors.


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