EDITOR’S NOTE: For the next two weeks as we cover the conventions—the Democrats in Denver and the Republicans in St. Paul—we will have a different publishing schedule, sending you ENPR twice a week: on Mondays and Fridays. Here’s your preview of the Democratic convention, including an analysis of Obama’s running mate and a new Electoral College breakdown.On Friday, Aug. 29, we’ll send you a recap of the Dem. Convention. From St. Paul, it will be the same thing: a GOP preview on Monday, September 1, and a recap on Friday, 9/5. After that, we’ll return to normal.
SPECIAL ENPR DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION PREVIEW
- By picking Sen. Joe Biden (D—Del.) as his running mate, Sen. Barack Obama telegraphed worry over his chances at election—worry that we have seen among Democrats gathering here in Denver. Once the perfect candidate, sure to be swept in by a Democratic tsunami, Obama is now in a 50—50 race with Sen. John McCain.
- In our pre—convention Electoral College analysis, we find the battleground shrinking, and Obama holding onto a one—state margin of victory.
- Democrats are nervous, but talk of a divided party is overblown.
Biden: Obama’s choice of Biden was a smart move and a mostly safe move. While Biden is not the ideal running mate, nobody is.
- The most obvious reason for the pick is Biden’s 25—year tenure on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. On foreign policy, Biden is well—informed, measured, and thoughtful. Vladimir Putin may have won Biden his spot on the ticket by invading Georgia. Republicans had begun to hope that 2008 could be an election about national security, without too much of a focus on Iraq. If McCain moves the election to that turf, Biden will be far stronger than Obama.
- Perhaps Biden’s most important feature is being a regular white guy. Obama is so far outside the mold of past Presidents—young, black, "funny name," with a foreign—born father—that he needed some vanilla on the ticket. Second to Sen. Evan Bayh (D—Ind.), Biden is very white bread.
- Biden is a Catholic, which could cut either way. On the plus side, Democrats hope he can reach out to blue—collar Catholics who voted overwhelmingly for Clinton in the primary. On the negative side, he is a pro—choice Catholic, which could revive discussion about Catholic teaching on life, and thus further elevate abortion as an issue—a net loser for Obama.
- Biden’s biggest downside is his tendency to talk too much and to get blustery—as anyone who has watched high—stakes Judiciary Committee hearings knows. This potential downside (together with the possibility that the decades—old plagiarism flap could haunt him) is an indicator of Obama’s sagging optimism: If Obama were confident he was the front—runner, he would have made a safer pick. By picking a potential liability as his running mate, Obama acknowledges that this is a very close race.
- Geographically, Biden probably doesn’t add much, Delaware was already looking like a lock for Obama, and the state has almost no influence beyond its borders. Democrats, however, hope Biden can reach into his native state of Pennsylvania—he has been called "the third Senator from Pennsylvania."
- Biden, always scrappy and not too concerned with being well—liked, should be an excellent attack dog—a common role for a No. 2.
- On the score of attracting attention and building suspense, the leadup to the announcement excellent—and coming after a rough week, Obama welcomed a distraction from the issues. Nevertheless, there were some missteps.
- The 3 a.m. timing was a cute touch, meant to evoke Hillary Clinton‘s implication that Obama was not the man you want responding to an international incident that awakes him at 3 a.m. But logistically, it let the air out of the tires, because the media were reporting it hours before.
- Obama’s second misstep was allowing the name of Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius to float around for so long. For Hillary feminists, Sebelius offered a second chance to get a woman in the White House. Staunchly pro—choice, white, baby—boomer, Sebelius was the poor—man’s Hillary Clinton. Knowledge that she was passed over for a Delaware senator won’t sit well with some already disgruntled Democrats. A Rasmussen survey this week found that only 33% of Democratic women approved of Obama’s selection of Biden, compared to 46% of men.
Delegates: Democrats today lack the optimism they had just a few months ago—but talk of a disastrous split is overblown.
- There are disgruntled—or at least loyal—Hillary supporters, displeased to be nominating Obama, but this is not a major factor here at the convention. The idea of a split party makes for a good story—and it makes Republicans salivate—but this is not a split party on the activist or delegate level.
- The Democratic mood is the not the same that existed in Iowa 9 months back, or even across the country two months ago. Obama never really pulled away from McCain, and Democrats are beginning to realize that their man could lose, even in this weak GOP year. This hasn’t quite amounted to buyers’ remorse yet.
- Indeed, Democrats remain enthusiastic that Obama would be a good President. They just worry whether he’ll be a good candidate.
Republicans: Republicans have set up camp about a mile down the road from the Pepsi Center, hoping to distract from the convention and spread the theme that Obama is not ready to be President.
- This theme flows, in part, from primary—season assertions by Biden and Clinton that Obama is unprepared to be President, and would require "on—the—job training." It is also flexible enough to be applied to almost any critique, and it resounds with undecided voters.
- The lineup of McCain surrogates coming to Denver is interesting—including four possible VP picks. Former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina on Monday will be part of a Democrats and independents for McCain squad, while former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney will highlight the GOP push—back on Tuesday and Wednesday. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is the anchor leg, responding to Obama on Thursday.
Overview: While McCain has enjoyed something of a surge in recent days, our Electoral College analysis ultimately breaks down the same way it did one month ago: a one—state Obama victory. The battleground appears to be narrowing a bit.
While no states switch sides this month, we move Indiana more firmly into McCain’s column, and Oregon more firmly into Obama’s. Obama 273, McCain 265.
Indiana (11 Electoral Votes): Talk of a possible Obama win in the Hoosier State ought to start fading away soon, now that Obama has passed over Bayh. A recent Rasmussen survey showed the race for Indiana’s 11 Electoral votes close, but that’s a bit misleading. Obama’s unfavorable ratings in this state are at 44%—and this is a state he spent considerable energy and time trying to win during the convention. The 14% undecided will break strongly for McCain. The campaigns might forget about this one by October. Solid Republican.
Oregon (7 EV): Early polls had shown Obama underperforming here, but no signs have emerged of a McCain renaissance. A Republican implosion in a competitive House race doesn’t help matters, either. McCain can write off the West coast. Solid Democrat.
Virginia (13 EV): The race for Virginia’s 13 Electoral votes is a fine example of how a simplistic reading of polls leads to an inflated impression of Obama’s chances this fall.
Obama dominated the Democratic primary here, and recent polls show a statistical tie. The state is moving in a Democratic direction, and so Democrats have reason to be confident. But a statistical tie between Obama and McCain with 9% undecided (the result in the August 12 Rasmussen poll) is a McCain advantage. Throw in Obama’s 46% unfavorable rating (McCain’s is 36%) and you begin to see that this tie is not a tie.
McCain will have to work hard to win Virginia, and that’s enough of a job, but it is not a swing state, properly speaking. In other words, Obama will likely carry Virginia only if he is winning the nation handily. Leaning Republican.