The focus of the McCain campaign was to portray Barack Obama as the risky, unacceptable choice in the election. He was too liberal, too inexperienced, and had too much unexplored baggage. That was the argument. But in the two most critical parts of the fall campaign (when people really pay attention) it failed because Obama didn’t seem risky at all.
First came the financial crisis. He didn’t do much of anything. But he met with Paul Volcker and Warren Buffett, suggested much the same sort of things as McCain did to amend the Paulson bailout plan, and avoided the sort of frenetic stunts McCain engaged in. Second, the debates. He didn’t have a great answer to why he refused to recognize the success of the surge, his tax plan was sheer fantasy, and he flat-out lied about his votes on partial birth abortion. But he seemed rather normal and serious.
In some ways the erratic and irascible McCain was the wrong person to make the “risky” argument. He, after all, was the one who lurched around both on policy and tactics. And because, on top of all that, he was unwilling to pursue the one association that was perhaps most troubling, Obama’s twenty years with Reverend Wright, he never convinced voters that Obama was too great a risk — or any more of a risk than McCain.