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For McCain and Obama, the Fighting Has Just Begun

A Commentary by Douglas Schoen

Friday, February 22, 2008

The presidential primary races have almost finished and the two current front runners for their respective parties have a striking similarity – they both have an appeal that extends beyond their party base.

John McCain has held a long-standing reputation as a maverick that will fight against his party establishment when he disagrees with them. Although much of the conservative base dislike him and do not want him to be their nominee, many acknowledge that his appeal to independents and moderates will help him in the general election. At a time when the Republican Party and outgoing president are highly unpopular due to the war in Iraq and a faltering economy, McCain may be the best chance the Republicans have to hold onto the White House.

On the Democratic side, Barack Obama has built a steady lead over the once inevitable candidate Hillary Clinton. His success initially came from independents and moderates, and while he has increasingly received support from traditional Democratic voting blocs like blue-collared workers and middle-income women, his calls for bipartisanship and working above the political fray are the bases of his appeal. He consistently beat Hillary Clinton in “red” states’ primaries and he has proved that he has the potential to gain supporters on both sides of the isle.

While both McCain and Obama have been the best of their party’s nominees at obtaining support from the growing independent voting bloc, the fight for support of the group I call the Restless and Anxious Moderates, or the RAMs, has just begun. The RAMs are practical, non-ideological and results-oriented voters who I believe will decide the presidential election. They despise partisanship and want the two parties to work together to solve the serious problems facing our country. The RAMs make up roughly 35-40 percent of the American electorate, and it is with their support that one of the presidential candidates will win in November.

McCain and Obama seem to realize this as their triumph thus far has been based largely on appealing to the RAMs, but the stakes become much greater as they turn to the general election. Obama will try to convince voters that McCain is not the “Straight Talk Express” that he claims to be; rather, that he is simply a clone of George Bush. Obama will point to the paradox in McCain’s career: he champions high ethical standards like having stricter campaign finance rules and lessening the relationship between lawmakers and lobbyists. Yet, McCain served as chairman of a nonprofit group that used the unlimited corporate contributions he opposed, he often flew on the corporate jets of executives seeking his support, and he is currently relying on lobbyists to run his presidential race.

Likewise, McCain will argue that Obama is a liberal Democrat with little experience, whose talk of bipartisanship and change lack substance and real policy ideas. McCain will also attack his foreign policy credentials, criticizing previous comments that Obama made on striking Al Qaeda targets near Pakistan. He will use this to support his argument that Obama’s naivety leaves him ill-suited to serve as this country’s commander-in-chief. This message may be more effective coming from McCain than Hillary Clinton, as McCain’s background as a war hero with well-established foreign policy credentials gives him more authority to make that claim.

McCain and Obama’s fight to receive the RAMs’ support will be the centerpiece of the upcoming general election.

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Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports.

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