Monday, August 18, 2008

McCain and Obama’s Saddleback Performance – Experience Trumps “Change”

Anyone who took the opportunity to watch the Saddleback Forum, hosted by Rick Warren on Saturday night had an opportunity to watch John McCain score and Obama fumble. The forum, hosted and moderated by Reverend Rick Warren, focused on character, integrity and faith. The presidential hopefuls were interviewed separately, at the request of the campaigns and agreed to answer similar questions. .

Barack Obama appeared generally at ease, but stumbled over questions on abortion (drawing a distinction between morality and science as regards to when life begins and then refusing to answer because “it was above his pay grade”), among others. The most striking were his comments on Supreme Court Justices – he would not have nominated Scalia, which, one would gather Obama would prefer a justice not strictly interpret the Constitution, therefore that was not a surprise. However, he named Clarence Thomas first, reasoning that Thomas lacked experience. Overall, a lackluster performance, rambling as it was unscripted.

John McCain on the other hand surprised those who have felt (author) that he had the charisma of a tranquilizer. Previously and admittedly, the support for John McCain had come from a “lesser of two evils” approach to picking a candidate. McCain came out gunning. He was amusing, connected with the viewer and left one feeling secure.
How was that possible? McCain has an usual style – he answers quickly and decisively – not searching for words in order not to offend anyone, he appears confident in his answers, and promotes hope in the American Dream. If age were an issue, he came across as more lively than the younger Illinois Senator. The Saddleback forum changed minds – and although the media is looking at the forum as one strictly for religious (specifically evangelicals), the reality – the entire spectrum of American society took time to watch this forum; it was broadcast by both Fox and CNN, with additional broadcasts by both networks over the weekend. In discussion with both independent and conservative Massachusetts viewers (where McCain has closed to within 9 points on Barrack Obama), comments focused not on question content, rather on the demeanor of both candidates: simply McCain came across as presidential and confident.

The press reacted, as it was glaringly obvious that McCain outshone Barack Obama, and therefore, he must have somehow cheated. The New York Times is crying foul noting that McCain may have had an opportunity to hear or have knowledge of some of the questions. (This after the Obama campaign accused, scrambling as usual - damage control.) Even if McCain somehow managed to hear or have knowledge of the first 3 similar questions put to Obama (which is an unsubstantiated claim from the Obama campaign), it would not explain the continued excellence of the McCain performance. From NBC to the New York Times, the obvious fact that the candidate who was thought to have Charisma that would outshine experience and put a Progressive into the White House, may now be another Dukakis or McGovern (politically speaking).

As the Democrats head into their convention, with McCain choosing to run 60 second spots on network television during the same time frame, the bounce from the convention may mirror the Obama Tour O8 (plus 9 points which faded within a week), which cannot bode well. It is now patently clear that Obama must stick to scripted debates; his cue card is essential.

Additional thought: Perhaps more important is his choice of running mate (more so than McCain), one can bet the house that should Obama choose John Kerry, (speculation), McCain could add the 12 electoral votes from Massachusetts to his win column.

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