In Presidential Politics, It’s Not Over Until It’s Over

Posted October 20, 2008 at 3:51pm

I have never understood why so many people enjoy calling a presidential race in advance of Election Day. It’s not for nothing that a week can be a lifetime in politics. Yet it seems that everyone has already placed his or her bets on a win by Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.).

[IMGCAP(1)]Simply stated, while the probability of a comeback by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is low, history suggests it is still within the range of probability. It seems the only two people who grasp this fact are Obama and McCain.

Nevertheless, the amount of luck McCain now needs to win is staggering. Obama is leading in five states that George W. Bush won in 2004: Florida, Colorado, Virginia, New Mexico and Iowa. Conversely, McCain leads Obama in no states that Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) won. Early voting is taking place under conditions that help Obama, who announced over the weekend that his campaign raised a record $150 million in September.

Still, I repeat: This race is far from over.

Not without reason, Republicans are now banking on two issues: the Bradley effect — voters saying they’ll vote for a minority candidate but then don’t — and concern over Democrats taking control of both the executive and legislative branches of government. (Democrats have a fighting chance to achieve a veto-proof Senate and pick up more than 20 additional House seats.) The premise of the divided government argument is that voters want paralysis and gridlock as a check on presidential power when the country is facing its worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. This is a losing argument.

Now comes the October surprise: Retired Gen. Colin Powell, a Republican who last year gave McCain’s campaign the maximum $2,300 contribution and who gave every indication that he would not publicly endorse either candidate, wholeheartedly endorsed Obama. Powell questioned McCain’s judgment and gave a blistering and detailed critique of today’s Republican Party.

Declaring that Obama’s election will “electrify” the country and the world, Powell said of Obama, “He has both style and substance. He has met the standard of being a successful president, being an exceptional president.” McCain, on the other hand, “raised some question in my mind as to the judgment” of choosing Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate.

“What that just did in one sound bite — and I assume that sound bite will end up in an ad — is it eliminated the experience factor,” former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) later said on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.” “How are you going to say the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the former national security adviser, former secretary of State was taken in?”

Nevertheless, the right-wing conservative attack machine swung into action, with Rush Limbaugh accusing Powell of something far worse than being “taken in” by the charm of Obama’s character. Limbaugh attacked Powell, a black man, for endorsing Obama because of the color of his skin.

“If I had only had that in mind,” Powell told moderator Tom Brokaw in response to a question anticipating just such an attack, “I could have done this six, eight, 10 months ago. I really have been going back and forth between somebody I have the highest respect and regard for, John McCain, and somebody I was getting to know, Barack Obama.”

Moreover, Powell added: “I would have difficulty with two more conservative appointments to the Supreme Court, but that’s what we’d be looking at in a McCain administration.”

Obama is leading McCain in the polls because, like Powell, folks have gotten to know Obama over the past 18 months. And they have become increasingly comfortable with and confident of Obama’s judgment, temperament, character and ability to lead. Moreover, people trust Obama more than McCain when it comes to the economy.

Former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers recently noted: “The combination of a near zero personal saving rate, lost housing wealth, reduced availability of credit, reduced real incomes caused by rising oil prices, falling dollar and rising food prices, as well as increased uncertainty constitute a perfect storm, depressing consumer spending.

“In this environment,” he continued, “the dominant risk is a downward spiral, in which financial problems curtail credit and spending, thereby reducing economic activity that, in turn, exacerbates financial strains, creating a vicious spiral. Once in progress, such a spiral may prove very difficult to arrest.”

In other words, without spending, we will never come out of this crisis. Besides, after Washington gave Wall Street 700 billion of our hard-earned dollars, there’s not a taxpayer in America who will sit still for a president, Republican or Democrat, who says sorry, there’s nothing for you. The cupboards are bare.

Our ability to make this economy work for the interests of our people now depends on our ability to work with others, to collaborate on economic and national security, and to rebuild our nation’s strength from the ground up with a universal health care system, intelligent and responsible spending, savings incentives, improved schools and green jobs from a green economy.

This is a brave new world, and we should welcome it with a brave new leader.

Donna Brazile, the campaign manager for Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore in 2000, runs her own grass-roots political consulting firm.