Despite some dropoff in national polling for John McCain, the race remains extremely tight and McCain’s standing in key swing states remains strong. Michael Barone looks at the landscape and observes: “The old rule that economic distress moves voters toward Democrats doesn’t seem to be operating.” He argues that some of it has to do with Democrats’ support for higher taxes.
That certainly seems logical, but perhaps there are multiple factors at work. For starters, Democrats have been in the majority in Congress since 2007 and, as voters are reminded everyday, they didn’t mind the store. Indeed, they gorged at the Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae trough. And on the energy front they did exactly nothing. With power, even in a divided government, comes responsibility. The voters may have figured out that they are at least equally responsible for the utter lack of accomplishment on any key issue (e.g. energy, immigration, health care, financial regulation). As for Barack Obama, he might be in a stronger position had he done something concrete on any significant legislative matter.
We see this in battleground states as well. It is especially evident in Michigan, which is essentially a dead heat. A disastrous economy compounded by a corrupt and disgraced Detroit mayor and Democratic sponsored tax hikes haven’t paved the way for Obama — these factors have made voters weary of doubling down on another Democrat.
And then there is the “vision thing.” Bill Clinton had a strong “third way” message of moderation and support for the middle class. John McCain has a low tax, free-trade message with a helping of maverick populism. But what exactly is Obama’s message? If we take his Denver speech seriously, he is preaching a familiar liberal line — more government and income redistribution. Since then he’s made clear that some of his tax hikes are off the table. But mainly, he’s gone on the attack, leaving voters to wonder what precisely an Obama economic policy would look like. We are six weeks from Election Day and it’s remarkable that we can’t be sure whether he is now a traditional liberal or something else.
So between a fixation for high taxes, a lack of accomplishments over the last few years, and the absence of a defined economic vision, neither Obama or the Congressional Democrats have made the most of their opportunities. That in large part explains why the race, at least for now, is as close as it is.