Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The latest polls ought to alarm Barack Obama. The Illinois senator desperately needs to change the narrative of the last few months - and this week’s Democratic convention is a good opportunity. Since he captured the nomination in June, he has made a string of costly errors which have resulted in squandering his previous lead over John McCain.

The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC poll reveals that the race is now a statistical tie: Mr. Obama has 45 percent support in contrast to Mr. McCain’s 42 percent support. Since last month, Mr. McCain has closed Mr. Obama’s six-point lead. This trend is confirmed in other national polls that indicate the candidates are tied. John Zogby’s latest poll even has Mr. McCain leading Mr. Obama by 46 percent to 41 percent - and Mr. McCain has a nine-point lead as better able to handle the economy, too. Even more striking: According to the George Washington/Battleground 2008 poll, Mr. Obama has lost his lead among independent voters. The Arizona senator is now favored by independents by a 45 to 35 percent margin.

Mr. Obama began to lose support when it became clear that he was not the “new kind of politician” he has been touting. His glaring flip-flops have led voters to question his sincerity and his competence. He has appeared weak and unsure of himself in addressing a number of key issues.

As he positioned himself for the general election, Mr. Obama flip-flopped on the The North American Free Trade Agreement, on public financing of his election campaign, on his willingness to meet rogue leaders, on whether Jerusalem ought to be divided, on the D.C. gun ban, on granting immunity to telecommunications companies for wire-tapping and on offshore drilling. He even stated that his Iraq policy, the centerpiece of his campaign for the Democratic nomination, would be further “refined” according to events on the ground. Rather than strengthening his candidacy, these reversals or evasions, which came in rapid succession, took the bloom off the rose of his candidacy. His “movement” came to a screeching standstill.

Mr. Obama was further weakened by his positions on foreign affairs. During his Mideast/European tour, in an interview with CBS’ Katie Couric, he acknowledged that the Iraq surge contributed to declining violence but that he had not been wrong in his previous opposition to it. His response made little sense. His speech in Berlin, before a massive audience, contained so many puzzling references to “world” leadership and so much flowery language that it provided the McCain campaign with a golden opportunity: Mr. Obama could be an object of ridicule. The McCain campaign unleashed an ad in which Mr. Obama is presented as a celebrity - akin to Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. The McCain camp also issued ads in which Mr. Obama is mocked as “The One”; this makes light of his messianic persona. Mr. Obama’s eloquence is now being used as a boomerang against him: he is being pegged as a lightweight who makes incomprehensible statements. In response, Mr. Obama has been uncharacteristically flat-footed. He has not yet adequately rebutted these charges, nor has he addressed the fundamental question raised during his world tour: As commander-in-chief, whose interests will come first, America’s or the world’s? Is he, in the final analysis, a globalist who will be unable to defend America’s national interest?

Mr. Obama’s image was further battered by his response during the crisis in Georgia - he appeared weak and timid in contrast to Mr. McCain’s more robust stand. The latest Wall Street Journal/ NBC poll, taken after the Georgia crisis, reveals that 52 percent of voters say that Mr. McCain would be better than Mr. Obama on “international crises such as Iran or Russia and the nation of Georgia.” Only 27 percent say that Mr. Obama is better on these issues.

Mr. Obama was also not as effective as Mr. McCain during the Aug. 16 debate in Saddleback Church in California, hosted by the Rev. Rick Warren. Mr. Obama’s responses were long-winded and overly-nuanced; whereas Mr. McCain was crisp, concise and decisive. Mr. Obama stumbled in response to the question of when life begins and said that was above his “pay grade.” Again, he appeared inept.

Mr. Obama has now chosen Sen. Joseph Biden as his running mate and will conclude the convention with another speech before another mammoth audience. Yet, trouble continues to loom. His vice-presidential pick is a long-time senator who contradicts his anti-Washington, change message. And the convention will highlight the Clintons - who have undermined Mr. Obama at every turn.

The Illinois senator is learning an important political lesson this summer. Momentum, is like youth: once lost, it is very difficult to recover.

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