Wednesday, July 30, 2008


Last week’s Wanderer article (updated since publication).

By Thomas F. Roeser

Electoral Vote Countdown.

CHICAGO—A Robert Novak analysis of a projected Electoral College tally (this before his brain tumor announcement) —markedly different from I ran last week gives much more optimism to the McCain forces—shows with 270 votes needed to elect, Barack Obama has 273 and John McCain 265, three more than Obama needs to win. McCain has a base of 18 states with 142 electoral votes but this is melting like a snow-cone in July. Obama’s base is 14 states with 187 electoral votes and is rock solid. Big question: the x factor—or how will older white Democrats respond to a liberal, young black candidate?

Several caveats:

Five states can decide whether Obama will add to the John Kerry total of 2004 and Al Gore sum of 2000, thereby giving the Democrat the needed 270 electoral votes: Colorado, Virginia, Ohio, Nevada and Michigan.

Although state-by-state polls show a big Obama tilt, savvy pollsters know from experience that voters tend to overstate a black candidate’s ratings and understate white. This is known as the “Bradley Effect,” named after the black, 5-term mayor of Los Angeles, Tom Bradley [1917-1998], referring to the tendency of white voters to tell interviewers and exit-pollsters they favor a black candidate but who actually vote for the white opponent.

Democrat Bradley was called a shoo-in in 1982 running for governor of California. Supposedly an ideal candidate: successful mayor, moderate conservative and ex-cop, in a Democratic year. Bradley led in all polls going into election day, was proclaimed by news organizations on election night the sure winner. But he lost by 100,000 votes (1.2% of 7.5 million votes cast) to Republican George Deukmejian. Since that time whether winner or loser, black candidates running in statewide or national elections, have fared better in the polls than with the actual tallies on election day, the result of lingering reluctance by white voters to acknowledge they will vote against a black candidate. Obama has to worry about any state where he’s running significantly under 50%, no matter how low McCain is.

To be sure, voters’ views of black candidates have changed since 1982 but it’s still an ever-present problem for Obama. Meanwhile, the problem for McCain is how close Obama is to him in traditionally red (or Republican) states like Virginia, North Dakota—even Montana where big-spender Republican congresses haven’t done the GOP any favors. Key state: Colorado (9) where Obama is ahead but not close to 50% but if the Dems’ national convention there produces a rock-star effect for him, it’s gone. Even Georgia (15) is problematic for McCain since Libertarian candidate Bob Barr is running high there but even so, the Bradley effect looks like it may pull the peach state out for McCain.

Louisiana (9) looks safe for McCain but strangely Nevada (5), a neighbor to McCain’s Arizona is barely tilting McCain. And New Mexico (5) is moving to Obama almost hitting the desirable 50%, the Hispanic vote being key here. North Carolina (15) still leaning McCain but Obama won the state big-time with a huge black turnout in its primary which may be duplicated; also McCain doesn’t resonate with conservatives there. Surprisingly, North Dakota (3) can’t be generally conferred to McCain but the polls are knife-edge close. Yet the good news for McCain in Ohio (20) is that disgruntled Hillary supporters and gun-owners alienated by Obama’s near confiscatory views are shoring up the state. And so it goes, the tallies seemingly swinging to and fro every week. Just a personal note: Bob Novak is a friend, but his count seems far too exuberantly pro-McCain to me.

Ask Not if Media Are Biased for Obama.

Trust me, no unelected presidential candidate in U.S. history—including World War II hero and 5-star general of the army Dwight Eisenhower— ever received more favorable media coverage in his campaign than Barack Obama. Superbowl-style coverage of his trip overseas is a case in point. His trip which began last week was equal to a papal overseas pilgrimage, stunning when you recall that the pontiff is a (a) head-of-state, (b) representing a church with 986 million congregants comprising half the world’s Christians and a full one-sixth of the population of the world. All major TV anchors are aboard the press plane including 500 other journalists (excluding The New Yorker magazine which though heavily pro-Obama earned the enmity of the campaign’s David Axelrod for its satirical cover and was summarily dis-invited).

“Mainstream media” make the following ten explanations for the eerily symbolic near-papal style visit to which cynics like me add the comments “yeah, right!”. First, , “the coverage is not because Obama will be the first black nominee of a major party for president. But because the likelihood of change will be generational, not racial” (yeah, right!). Second, “it is not because Obama happens to be the more liberal candidate because if Hillary Clinton had won, a trip could be composed of the same numbers” (yeah, right!). Third, “it is really because Obama is an untested politician and people deserve to know if he will fall on his face in this endeavor or succeed” (yeah, right!). Fourth, “you see if this were Ronald Reagan making his first presidential run we’d be doing the same thing” (yeah, right!).

Fifth, “McCain and the GOP are to blame for all this because he blasted Obama for only going once to Iraq and never going to Afghanistan so it’s the case of chickens coming home to roost” (yeah, right!). Sixth, “sure, the Tyndall Report [a news coverage monitoring service] shows broadcast media with 20 million viewers spent 114 minutes covering Obama since June and 48 minutes covering McCain, but the reason is Obama’s charisma not liberal bias. Obama is young and exciting, McCain is old and crotchety so we’re justified in going with the charisma. After all, JFK had it, Nixon didn’t. If Republicans had a candidate with charisma we’d be flying with him too!” (yeah, right!).

Seventh, “all the times McCain went to Iraq he had no TV anchors and very sparse media along because he was saying the same old things which is why we didn’t cover him as extensively” (yeah, right!). Eighth as Chuck Todd the political director of NBC News has said, “this is the way all new guys are treated, whether it’s Ronald Reagan, Michael Dukakis, Bill Clinton or George W. Bush. There’s always a candidate who gets more ‘new guy’ treatment” (yeah, right!).

Eighth, “it was entirely appropriate for Obama to request permission of German authorities to speak at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin because, after all, JFK and Ronald Reagan did [approval denied at Brandenburg, granted at the Victory Column in downtown Berlin, circa 1873, topped by a golden statue of winged Victory commemorating Prussia’s defeat the previous decade of France, Austria and Denmark] and the fact that Kennedy and Reagan had earned this right by being elected president is immaterial” (yeah, right!). Ninth, the fact that The New York Times printed Obama’s Op Ed on Iraq but refused McCain’s stems from the editorial board’s wish to have the two pieces mirror themselves as a set piece tailored around Obama’s deadline is only editorial style and does not reflect bias (yeah, right!). Tenth, “the fact that Obama’s face appeared on two covers of Rolling Stone and McCain none, and that Obama was on the cover of U.S. Weekly twice and McCain’s hasn’t is due to editorial timing and has nothing to do with the fact that the publications are owned by Obama fund-raiser Jann Wenner; it’s only a coincidence” (yeah, right!).

Obama Media Buy Strives for “Blowout.”

I’ve known David Axelrod, 53, the Chicago media mogul who’s in charge of Obama’s ads and p.r. strategy since he was a Tribune reporter in 1982. He has spoken in my university courses and has been on my ABC radio show.

The place to catch him is at Manny’s, the superb Jewish deli and sandwich shop on the near West Side, at lunchtime every Saturday where he consumes corned beef and cold potato salad. Humor him by bowing low and saying, “hail, 0 swami!” and you’re invited to sit down and watch him munch. The other day we talked about his ad buy—stupendously ambitious since the Obama campaign is flush with cash. Of the 18 states where Axelrod has decided to air Obama’s first TV ads , 14 are states Bush carried in 2004, supposedly solid GOP states such as North Dakota, Alaska, Montana and Indiana. This means that Axelrod is striving for a big blowout endemic in his view that if Obama goes in by a huge majority and with a substantially strengthened Democratic congress, he can carry his program with the same effect that LBJ did after the 1964 landslide over Barry Goldwater. It could also mean Axelrod is trying to fake the McCain campaign, making them think “if Dave’s plunking down big bucks in these red states, what does he know that we don’t?” To this, Axelrod rolls his eyes and says “who I do that?”

With nonchalance born of near-certainty of victory, Axelrod has ignored on this first go-round six states Bill Clinton won in 1996 which Axelrod considers likely for Obama and not in need of reinforcement right now—Kentucky, Louisiana (I question his accuracy there), Tennessee, West Virginia and Arkansas (I question it again here).

When I disputed this with him, particularly Louisiana and West Virginia, he replied: In 2004 Democrats outnumbered Republicans in Kentucky (+4%), Louisiana (+2%), West Virginia (+18%) and Arkansas (+10%). What this means isn’t that Axelrod is necessarily right but that he is a plunger, a gambler. The cautious player would spend early dough on some sure-win Clinton-Gore-Kerry states, nailing them down and branching out from there. Not so if you’re Axelrod. He starts out with Indiana, Alaska, Montana and Georgia for TV ads. The name of the game for him—and Obama-- is audacity. Axelrod wasn’t at Manny’s last week, however. He was with his candidate in the Middle East and supervising his upcoming TV extravaganza at Berlin’s Victory Column.

Iraqi PM Woos Obama.

Meanwhile a superb gift was handed to Obama by none other than Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki who last week said he backed a proposal by Obama to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq within 16 months. The statement, made to the German magazine Der Spiegel, delivered a body blow to both Bush and McCain. Shortly after the article appeared, an Iraqi spokesman tried to clarify things saying the possibility of troop withdrawal is based on continuance of security improvements, echoing what the White House said after a conference on closed-circuit TV between Maliki and Bush. But the “clarification” doesn’t wash.

The original statement seems to qualify as a Harold Macmillan-style “events, my dear boy,” that could by itself pivot an election to Obama. And this could be one of the glimpses a Sleepy Eye of the electorate can make to decide the young whippersnapper (Obama) is indeed qualified for the presidency since Maliki is content to humiliate McCain on his own turf, supposed foreign-defense policy expertise.

Why did Maliki do it? First, he thinks Obama will be the next president and he’d better start winning some plaudits with him now. Second, Maliki is an Iraqi nationalist. He feels the war has been won and he wants to be un-interfered with in running his own country. McCain views Iraq as a bastion for us to maintain stability over the entire Middle East; Obama doesn’t see things that way and wants the U.S. to get out of Iraq ASAP. Obama’s view more adequately suits Maliki’s timetable than McCain’s. As for gratitude, no international power-broker can afford to limit himself to that sentimental view and Maliki, believing victory is at hand, wants to get on with his governance unimpeded by a U.S. presence.

Latest Vice News.

A false rumor surfaced that John McCain was to pick his veep last week but no soap. But whenever he does the choosing, if it is not Mitt Romney, it is probably a mistake. As of now, Romney appears to be in the lead. McCain-Romney is a choice fit because of Romney’s economic expertise, his strong Michigan base (state of his birth and where his father served as governor) and to dissuade suspicions of conservatives that maverick McCain who in the past (not now) has favored big government, keeping taxes on upper incomes high, regulating energy in behalf of climate change and tolerant immigration stems from ignorance of, and disdain for, businessmen. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is an exotic but not natural fit and Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty could possibly (but not likely) carry Minnesota. Rob Portman an ex-congressman has the mark of Cane on him—a Bush administration official. A new entry this week is Sen. John Thune (S. D. ) who defeated Tom Daschle in 2004—but Thune is strong for earmarks a McCain no-no. Ex-Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge is a NARAL Catholic who would cause McCain greater trouble with social conservatives than he has faced up to now.

On the Democratic side, a natural could be Gov. Tim Kaine of Virginia who is unknown but if you factor in the essential need to carry that state, it could be made eminently possible if he’s on the ticket. Then there’s Sen. Joe Biden (Del.) a pro-abort Catholic, chairman of Senate Foreign Relations and who is regarded by many as a jerque (fancy way of saying “jerk”) because he can’t keep his mouth shut, once effusively describing Obama this way: “ I mean you have the first African-American who is articulate, bright and clean”…this is supposed to be a compliment to all blacks, right? …and “a nice-looking guy!” Obama chafed at the report. “Clean, meaning I take frequent showers, right?” he is reputed to have commented.

The big front-runner last week was Sen. Evan Bayh (Indiana), a former governor, good-looking, bland and as unmemorable as vanilla but who might have a chance to bringing Indiana into play for Obama.

Lingering Questions About Obama.

It’s de rigueur for TV standup comics to kid all presidential candidates. But not Obama. Why not? Two reasons: (1) comics don’t want to come across as red-necks, mocking a black and (2) young, emotional studio audiences are very immature about teasing Obama and boo when it happens. Which disturbs the New York Times’ ultra-irreverent columnist Maureen Dowd, who likes to assail every presidential candidate. She was grousing about this last week to two friends, ultra-liberals Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, brilliant satirists of TV’s “Comedy Central” cablecast. Stewart and Colbert have no scruples about making fun of anyone, even a blind beggar playing an accordion for donations.

Obama has no faults? “Are you kidding me?” Stewart said. He and Colbert starting riffing about the suave presidential candidate’s familiarity with drug slang, as taken from his two autobiographies. They cited a phrase in The Audacity of Hope that Obama confessed he had done some pot, some booze and…in his own words…”maybe a little blow.” That’s street talk—Chicago street talk—for cocaine.

Colbert: “Wow, that’s a very street way of putting it--`a little blow.’” Stewart chimed in snidely, “yeah, a little bit of the white rabbit!” That’s street talk for heroin.

Let that get visibility and the electorate’s Sleepy Eye will pop wide open and forget all about Maliki. Already a brilliant mocker of Obama’s failings is Pulitzer prize-winning syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer who has been both physician and psychiatrist. Last week in a scathing commentary he wrote, “Americans are beginning to notice Obama’s elevated notions of himself…[He] is a three-year senator without a single important legislative achievement to his name, a former Illinois state senator who voted `present’ nearly 130 times. As president of the Harvard Law Review, as law professor and legislator, has he ever produced a single notable piece of scholarship? Written a single memorable article? His most memorable work is a biography of his favorite subject: himself…After all, in the words of his own slogan, `we are the ones we’ve been waiting for,’ which translating the royal `we’ means I am the one we’ve been waiting for.’ Amazingly, he had a quasi-presidential seal with its own Latin inscription affixed to his podium until general ridicule…induced him to take it down.”

Yes, there are Obama-isms to hoot at and chortle over if you’re politically incorrect. Such as his admonition to Americans to “teach your child to speak Spanish”—a language he himself does not speak. And chastising ignorant Americans who go to Europe knowing no French, managing to emit only merci beaucoup. Obama speaks no French.

Krauthammer has a few more. “For the first few months of the campaign the question about Obama was: Who is he? The question now is: Who does he think he is?”

His answer: “Redeemer of our uninvolved, uninformed lives. Lord of the seas. And more. As he said on victory night, his rise marks the moment when ‘our planet began to heal.’”

Even his stylistic model, John F. Kennedy had to endure people laughing at him—particularly the Germans when he went to the Brandenburg Gate and pronounced the words written for him by Ted Sorensen on a slip of paper-- ‘ich bin ein Berliner!”

The way Kennedy mispronounced it in terrible German, he had just announced “I am a jelly doughnut!”

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