In this Fourth of July week, Barack Obama and John McCain are heading in different directions, literally and figuratively.
McCain is heading for Latin America to burnish his already well-known foreign policy credentials, with tours of Colombia and Mexico. Obama is heading to Ohio and the Mountain West, the latter visit as part of his new swing states strategy.
Both are continuing their TV ad campaigns, with Obama on the air in 18 states and McCain in 11. But McCain has a new ad up, pushing his new theme of energy security, while Obama continues his biographical introduction. And McCain has changed his slogan again, to “Putting Country First,” his third in a month.
Both candidates had some rocky moments last week. McCain chief strategist Charlie Black may be on a long vacation off a short pier after being quoted in a Fortune profile of McCain saying that a successful terrorist attack on US soil would help elect the Arizona senator. A lot of people think it’s true, incidentally. I don’t. And one of McCain’s biggest backers, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, criticized his oil policy. He also fell behind in Schwarzenegger’s California by a whopping 2 to 1 in the latest Rasmussen poll.
The poll — and bear in mind that pollster Scott Rasmussen is an avowed Republican — shows Obama opening up a massive lead over McCain in the Golden State, which Team McCain once saw as a possibility for victory. It’s Obama 58%, McCain 30%. Frankly, this is the biggest lead I can recall in any such presidential poll of California voters, and it demonstrates that McCain’s shift in position for offshore oil drilling is a major backfire for him and his party in California.
Obama got a big boost at the end of the week with his Unity, New Hampshire — a bit too clever, perhaps, sounding like the name of a TV show — rally with Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton is a much more compelling and polished speaker than when she began her presidential campaign. She and Barack Obama played off each other quite well.
He with his slightly loosened French, er, royal blue tie, she with matching (trademark) pantsuit. (Actually, it may be more of a robin’s egg blue.) She either actually wants him to be elected president, or has become a very accomplished actress. 6000 people showing up in a field outside a town so small it doesn’t have an elected mayor. Where neither candidate actually campaigned in the New Hampshire primary, but where each received 107 votes.
Reviews are more mixed for Obama’s pivot to the center since the primaries. Some think he looks like a flip-flopper. Others think he looks like a smart politician. In the former camp resides Politico.com, which has a feature pushing a theme — that Barack Obama is really just another conventional politician. This happens to be the theme pushed in a memo by McCain senior advisor Steve Schmidt, the former Schwarzenegger campaign manager. The argument is that Obama has made a mistake in the last two weeks. By not making “bold choices.” Or by, looking at it from another perspective, not playing into Republican hands. Decides not to give up massive fundraising advantage over McCain? Supposed mistake. Decides not to debate in McCain’s preferred and by far best format? Supposed mistake. Decides to favor the right of the individual to bear arms? Supposed mistake. Decides to support death penalty for the rapists of children? Supposed mistake. Decides not to punish telecom firms caught up in the post-9/11 fervor that cooperated with national security officials? Supposed mistake.
Of course, had Obama gone the other way on these issues, he would be derided as an idiot. Naturally. But it sure would have played into another favored Republican theme, that Obama is the most radical Democratic presidential nominee in history.
Nevertheless, the moves make it clear that Obama is a politician, for those who haven’t been following along. His positioning looks an awful lot like Bill Clinton’s, who was off in London for Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday while his wife was schlepping off to a field in picturesque New Hampshire.
Meanwhile, with national polls delivering varying numbers, from a 15-point Obama lead to a dead-even race, battleground state polls are promising for Obama. In the new Quinnipiac polls for the Wall Street Journal, for example, Barack Obama leads John McCain in key swing states. In Colorado, it’s 49-44, Michigan 48-42, Minnesota (home of possible McCain running mate Governor Tim Pawlenty) 54-37, and Wisconsin 52-39. And in New Mexico, Barack Obama holds a significant lead over John McCain in the latest Rasmussen tracking poll, 47% to 39%.
But the most important numbers look to be the economic numbers. Crude oil closed over $140 per barrel Friday for the first time in history, at a whopping $140.90. It also hit a new intraday trading high of $142.99 per barrel. Gold is around a record high, the dollar is around a record low, and the stock market is on the cusp of beardom, with financial stocks especially nosediving.
The ballyhooed summit of oil producers and consumers in Saudi Arabia failed, with OPEC leaders insisting the problem of price is not a matter of supply, but largely one of speculation. They essentially washed their hands of any responsibility, which guarantees that the energy economy, and everything it affects, will be front and center in the presidential election.