McCain Stays on the Social Security Privatization Bandwagon

According to Gallup polling, the only -- only -- age group to give John McCain more support than Barack Obama are those voters over the age of 65. Yet McCain appears willing to and intent on tempting fate with this group, taking their support for granted by pushing an ill-conceived and wildly unpopular Social Security privatization plan -- a move, I might add, that makes McCain look more, rather than less, like George W. Bush, the last major leader to try to make a push to privatize the program. Here's the Los Angeles Times today.

It was a spectacular flop: a president making dozens of fruitless trips around the country to build support for a plan his own party's leadership refused to accept.

But President Bush's failed push to privatize Social Security has not deterred John McCain from putting forward the same idea -- and from risking a similar political disaster.

McCain, the presumed Republican presidential nominee, spoke several times last week about changing how the popular retirement program is funded, at one point calling it a "disgrace" that younger workers are forced to pay for a plan that, in his view, is unlikely to benefit them when they retire.

Democrats are gearing up to turn McCain's stand on Social Security, and his willingness to consider a privatization plan, into a key campaign issue. They say changing the program in that way would undermine retirees' benefits, and they hope to use the issue to harm the Arizona senator's support among a set of voters who tilt toward him -- seniors.

If it weren't for the fact that the last several months have given me a real opportunity to see the sheer hubris mixed with an overwhelming self-righteousness that largely defines McCain's political career, I would likely be shocked to see him go to the mat on this issue. After all, as alluded to in the article above, it was President Bush's efforts to privatize the Social Security program that served as one of the key turning points in the country in the last four years -- along with the Iraq War, Hurricane Katrina and the Terri Schiavo fiasco -- that woke voters up and got them engaged for change. As much as anything else, the progressive pushback on Social Security -- which was driven in no small part by the netroots -- turned George W. Bush into a lame duck the first year of his second term.

Yet even though the American people spoke clearly and forcefully in 2005 in rejecting any move to privatize Social Security, McCain is nevertheless sticking to his guns on the issue. Stubbornness is apparently not a trait held exclusively by George W. Bush but rather one that he shares with his heir apparent.

And for as much of a risk as pulling even closer to George W. Bush on the economy is for McCain, calling a "disgrace" a program beloved by Americans -- particularly older voters, one of McCain's few bases of support -- and also remarkably effective is beyond risky: it's just plain not smart. Maybe McCain will be able to get away with taking for granted the support of older voters, but if he does it will not be despite his position on privatization but rather in spite of it -- it is a hurdle McCain is putting up in addition to the ones already ahead of his campaign.

But if McCain wants to embrace a wildly unpopular position, one that risks alienating him from one of his key constituencies while at the same time making him look even more like George W. Bush (if such a thing were even possible), I say go ahead. Far be it from me to recommend he not take steps that decrease rather than increase the likelihood of him being elected in November.

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Whiner-gate Day Two: There's Tape

In my mind, the one saving grace for John McCain following the comments of his top economic adviser Phil Gramm on the whininess of the American people with regard to the economy was that there wasn't tape floating around to be replayed -- both for the next few days and in a campaign ad to come. Well, not so much, I guess. Now you can watch the whole segment in its fully glory.

As the folks at First Read aptly put it, "Gramm's comments threw McCain camp way off message, but more than that, this -- combined with McCain calling Social Security 'a disgrace' -- is flypaper for the 'out of touch' label, something both candidates have been desperately trying to avoid." That people can now actually view and hear Gramm say this, that "out of touch" label isn't going to be any easier for McCain to avoid.

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No One is Paying Attention to John McCain

Markos noted this in his open thread yesterday, but I thought it was worthy of a little more attention here at MyDD as well. Take a look at these numbers from Pew:

The competition for media exposure between Barack Obama and John McCain was much closer last week than in the past several months of the presidential campaign. During much of the primary campaign and in the weeks since the general election kicked-off in early June, Barack Obama has consistently received more media attention than his Republican rival, John McCain. By contrast last week, according to the Project for Excellence in Journalism's Campaign Coverage Index, Obama was featured prominently in 73% of all campaign news stories while McCain was featured in 62% of all stories.

Despite greater parity in the coverage devoted to each candidate, Obama remained by far the most visible candidate in the eyes of the public. Seven-in-ten Americans (71%) named Obama as the candidate they've been hearing the most about in the news in the past week or so. Roughly one-in-ten (11%) named John McCain as the most visible candidate in the news during this period; a number largely unchanged since early June.

Looking at the numbers (.pdf) dating back to March, at no point in the last four months have more than 12 percent of respondents in Pew polling said that they have heard more about John McCain than other presidential candidates. During that time, Barack Obama's number has dropped below 45 percent just once -- and not below 67 percent since early June. The graph on Pew's write up of its survey goes back even further to January, but during the last six plus months McCain hasn't been viewed as the news leader by more than about 15 percent of the public.

These numbers are important. Obviously, the fact that about 70 percent of Americans are hearing more about Obama while just 11 percent are hearing more about McCain does not mean that Obama is going to win the race for the White House by a similarly large margin. But these numbers nevertheless should be a cause for concern for the McCain campaign.

Common wisdom may hold that they only way McCain can win is if this election is about Obama rather than McCain or George W. Bush. But I'm not so certain that this reasoning is all that dead on. For those watching the cable nets, it might seem as though McCain has been driving the coverage and the narrative so far during the first month of the general election campaign. And yet that is not sinking in to the American public. Far from it, indeed.

With so few voters paying attention to McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee still runs the risk of being defined by others rather than himself. Clearly, his own efforts have failed to grab the imagination of Americans. The Obama campaign, and progressives more broadly, still have to work to make the most of this opportunity provided by the McCain campaign's (and McCain as a candidate) inability to take center stage in this election. But for now it sure seems like there's a wide window open to define McCain before he defines himself -- a window that could lead right to the presidency for Obama.

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Shifts in Colorado

According to the Pollster.com trend estimate, Barack Obama now holds a 42.5 percent to 40.4 percent lead over John McCain in Colorado. Real Clear Politics sees a larger 47.3 percent to 42.0 percent lead for Obama. FiveThirtyEight.com's regression analysis pegs Obama's lead as about the same as the one found by RCP, and gives Obama a 65 percent shot at winning the state.

Yet as exciting as all of those numbers are -- and they do look good, don't get me wrong -- it is this set of numbers that is the really good omen for both Obama and the Democratic Party:

Since the 2006 election, Republicans have lost about 42,000 voters, and Democrats have picked up about 32,000, registration records show.

That's a significant amount of movement since 2006 -- a year, I might add, that was great for Colorado Democrats. Remember, that fall saw what was supposed to have been one of the nation's closest gubernatorial contests end up a rout in favor of the Democrats, with Denver District Attorney Bill Ritter overwhelming Republican Congressman Bob Beauprez 56 percent to 41 percent. That November's election also saw what was supposed to have been a close race in the evenly-drawn seventh congressional district end up a big 55 percent to 42 percent win for Democrat Ed Perlmutter.

And yet despite the fact that 2006 was a banner year for the Democrats, their numbers have continued to grow in the state since then, both in nominal terms and (particularly) relative to the GOP. Throw in the fact that Obama will address tens of thousands of voters in his acceptance speech at Mile High -- voters whose contact information he will get when they register for tickets to the address -- and the likelihood that the speech will bring positive coverage in the state, and all of the sudden things look really great in Colorado.

This, of course, does not mean that anything can be taken for granted. That said, the likelihood is looking greater and greater that Obama will be able to build on the 47 percent John Kerry earned in Colorado in 2004 and really make a play for the state's nine electoral votes come November.

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Where is Obama's White Voter Problem?

Remember all of the talk about how Barack Obama had a unique difficulty attracting white voters to his camp? NBC News' First Read doesn't buy it. Combining the last two NBC News/Wall Street Journal polls to create one big sample (and thus larger subsamples with smaller margins of error), the folks at First Read note the following:

What's more on this front, we combined our last two NBC/WSJ surveys to get a larger sample of white voters broken down by age in the Obama-McCain match-up, and while Obama -- at this stage in the race -- outperforms Kerry and Gore among all white voters, the age group where Obama underperforms both Kerry and Gore is among white voters 65+. Obama trails McCain 54%-32%, which is nearly twice the deficit Kerry had at this point with Bush among this group (53%-40%). Obama, of course, does better among white voters under 35, which makes up for the older voter issue. [emphasis added]

Obama performs better than either of the last two Democratic nominees, one of whom one the popular vote, among white voters, but he is professed to have a problem with white voters? I think someone is going to have to explain this one to me...

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