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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Optimism and Pessimism Joust

It’s a pretty fair assumption that Democrats looking towards the general election are feeling exceptionally conflicted right now. On the one hand, the extended Clinton-Obama competition, which could easily extend into June and could possibly remain unresolved until the convention in August, is clearly inflicting damage on both candidates’ general election prospects while giving John McCain an enormous breather. In a very unhappy article in The New Republic today, Noam Scheiber argues that it may take a relatively early superdelegate intervention to nail down an Obama nomination and give Democrats a shot at victory in November.
But on the other hand, there remain certain fundamental factors that are almost certain to boost the Democratic nominee down the road and create some serious problems for McCain. Chief among them is the economy. At Bloomberg.com, Alison Fitzgerald reminds us that incumbent parties have rarely if ever managed to hold onto the White House in a recessionary atmosphere. Moreover, John McCain’s relative ability to avoid association with the record of the Bush administration does not necessarily extend to economics; even his own campaign concedes that his chief economic talking point is support for making Bush’s tax cuts permanent.
Beyond the economy, the belief of many conservatives that McCain is going to win by making the election a foreign policy referendum centered on Iraq is exceedingly strange. Yes, the tactical successes associated with the “surge” in Iraq have made this issue less deadly for Republicans, but there’s simply no evidence that Americans are shifting towards support for perpetual war or a reconsideration of the judgment that the invasion was a mistake.
In other words, there’s almost no doubt that John McCain will be fighting a powerful, historically high “wrong track” sentiment that may actually grow stronger in the fall, particularly if gas prices rise to over $4 a gallon and the collateral damage from the subprime mortgage disaster continues to play itself out. It’s always possible that McCain’s battered-but-intact “maverick” reputation compounded by unhappiness over the views of the retired pastor of the Trinity United Church of Christ will trump these fundamentals. But the fundamentals are not going away.

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