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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Challenge

As we all anticipate Hillary Clinton’s speech tomorrow suspending her campaign and endorsing Barack Obama, the immediate challenge that she and her former Democratic rival face was helpfully underlined by John McCain in media interviews yesterday. As Michael D. Shear and Jon Cohen explain in the Washington Post, McCain has “set his sights” on wooing disaffected Clinton supporters:

“There’s a lot of Senator Clinton supporters who would support me because of their belief that Senator Obama does not have the experience or the knowledge or the judgment to address this nation’s national security challenges,” McCain told reporters Wednesday.

In other words, the McCain campaign is going to mine Clinton’s comments about Obama–not to mention exit poll findings–during the nomination contest for arguments to her supporters that he’s a safer bet in November.
Such arguments, of course, will have to overcome the vast gulf of policy differences between Clinton and McCain:

On the issues, it is unclear how McCain would appeal to Clinton’s female or working-class voters. McCain’s record is not much like Clinton’s, as the Republican repeatedly pointed out during his primary battles. He opposes government-run health care [sic], supports continuing the war in Iraq, wants to extend President Bush’s tax cuts and is a committed foe of abortion rights.

That’s why McCain’s wizards are already placing heavy emphasis on Obama’s alleged “elitism,” and the Republican’s alleged “maverick” credentials:
McCain strategists predict their candidate will do a better job of siphoning away Democratic votes because of two factors: what they say is Obama’s inability to connect to some key parts of the Democratic coalition, and McCain’s reputation as a maverick.

Republicans plan to describe Obama as an elitist from the Hyde Park section of Chicago, where liberal professors mingle in an academic world that is alien to most working-class voters. They plan to make sure Clinton’s voters do not forget about Obama’s comments that working-class people are bitter and cling to their guns and religion as a way of dealing with the economic uncertainty they face.
“The cling-to part about religion and guns is where the McCain campaign is going to hammer home on,” said Kevin Madden, a GOP analyst who was the spokesman for former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney’s presidential bid.

If, indeed, the two most important McCain talking points to Democrats involve a single, out-of-context quote from an Obama fundraising event, and a grossly exaggerated “maverick” reputation that’s about eight years out of date, then the Democratic rebuttal shouldn’t be that hard to develop.
But it definitely needs to begin tomorrow with Hillary Clinton’s speech.

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