The roads to the White House are the Ohio and Pennsylvania turnpikes (I-76 and I-80/90), from Philadelphia running west through Pittsburgh, Akron, Cleveland, and Toledo; and I-75, which runs through Michigan from Mackinaw City south through Detroit, then into Ohio and through Toledo, Lima, Dayton, and Cincinnati. The man who really wants to win the election this fall will put himself on bus and drive east and west, north and south on those highways, getting to know the people of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan extremely well, and he’ll talk about the price of gas and the state of the U.S. economy constantly. Paul “Cassandra” Krugman has a great column today (h/t TalkLeft) explaining why Barack Obama needs to up his economy talk, and fast. (However, I disagree with Krugman that Obama is OK on the specifics; he needs to hammer those specifics into people’s heads and explain why his specifics are better than John McSame’s specifics.)
Obama is doing OK in Pennsylvania but he’s losing ground in Ohio: PPP says the race in Ohio is tied, other polls show it very close, and that’s bad in a year when the GOP brand is mud, the Dems swept the 2006 elections in Ohio, and the people there are very open to regime change in the Oval Office (especially in the downtrodden Ohio Turnpike corridor and Democratic stronghold that runs through northern Ohio, from Akron and Cleveland through Toledo.) Obama can win those states if he goes there to ask for their votes and explains how his policies will help them. The people of Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania remember the Clinton years fondly and are predisposed to trust Democrats more than Republicans with the economy–but they also need to hear from the candidate himself what he can do for them, and why his leadership matters.
I’ve always thought that Obama’s strategy of dissing and/or largely ignoring Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania (except through ad buys) was foolish in the primary, but it’s suicidal in the general election. Focusing on Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada, even if Obama wins all three states, is risky. (Colorado is looking dubious–he’s narrowly behind in Colorado and has lost a small but significant lead since July, and this state is wary of change even in places where it’s not politically right-wing). Nevertheless, these western states won’t compensate for losing Michigan, Ohio, and possibly Pennsylvania. Looking for new votes in new regions is a great idea, so long as you don’t ignore your natural constituencies in uncool, older, rust-belt states. Guess what? Older people vote, and their grandkids? Not so much. Remember how all of those college kids who weren’t being polled because they only had cell phones were going to save John Kerry four years ago? How did that work out for us?
So, why doesn’t Obama get himself on a bus and get to know the people in the truck stops in Monroe, Maumee, Perrysburg, Findlay, Tipp City, Kettering, and Hamilton? (Inquiring Democratic minds across the country want to know!) Obama has shown a real antipathy to embracing anything having to do with Bill and Hillary Clinton or their records. It wasn’t just a primary campaign thing, like when he wrote off Kentucky and West Virginia because he wasn’t going to win there, and Hillary Clinton was going to win big. This has become a big theme of his summer campaign: anyone or any state associated with Bill or Hillary Clinton is dead to him. He has gone out of his way to punish her supporters like Charlie Rangel and Wes Clark by denying them any role in his convention, and–this is unbelievable–he has zero campaign offices in Arkansas. (Yep–the place where the state Democratic Party chairman was murdered last week? The one southern state that is run by Democrats now?) And as Krugman points out, he’s so far shown himself uninterested in reminding people specifically which years in the 1990s were so good, and why.
Imagine, if you will, that Hillary Clinton squeaked out a narrow win in the primary and didn’t immediately name Obama as her running mate. Imagine that she refused to speak at all about her plans for getting out of Iraq, or that when she did, she spoke without passion or evident interest. Imagine that she refused to open any campaign offices in Illinois, and refused speaking roles to prominent Obama supporters among Democratic party leaders like Ted Kennedy, Nancy Pelosi, and/or Bill Richardson. Now, shut your eyes and try really hard to imagine the media coverage and “friendly advice” from the party she’d be getting if she did even one of these things, especially if she were flatlining in key state polls in mid-August.
One of the things that I really didn’t get about the Republican Party of the last fifteen years is that they were such sore winners. They won–and won again–and yet they still seemed so angry, filled with ressentiment, and were so punitive towards their political enemies. They seemed more interested in pursuing political grudges than in, you know, governing. It’s disappointing to see the Obama machine go down the same road concerning fellow Democrats. (D’ya think that you might need the Chairman of the House of Representatives’ Ways and Means Committee on your side down the line? Do you want him making your life easier, or harder? How about the former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO when South Ossetia blows up again? And just how many electoral votes do you think you can afford to lose?) If the party isn’t united at the convention and through the fall, it will be Obama’s fault and his fault alone. The Democratic Party wasn’t born yesterday, most of us in it weren’t either, and he isn’t running to be the first Democratic president of the United States. We all get there together, or we’re not going anywhere.