There has always been this notion in Presidential races there will "an October Surprise." The earliest notion of this goes back to the infamous ad of the little girl picking daises with the countdown and nuclear explosion. It jolted an electorate that was wavering over who should be president. Ever since surprises have been predicted, some materialized others just fizzled.
The surprise this go round however has come in many forms. The last face-off between Senators John McCain and Barack Obama in a town hall forum was one in a series of surprises. Let's just cut to the chase. The debate was a draw. What made this a draw was the overwhelming sense this economy is in the tank. The audience in the room and outside the room heard only one new idea during the 90 minute discussion. A proposal by Senator McCain to buy up depressed mortgages(its the first concrete message he's delivered on the economy). While members of the media were quick to jump on the new idea, the public has yet to hear a full vetting of what it means.
Wall Street Bailout Aftermath
What were they thinking at AIG? Hey we got the bailout let's continue business as usual. Let's send our brokers out to a California Spa and lavish them with $400,000 dollars in pampering. DAH!!! Congressman Elijah Cummings of Maryland thought it so incredible he couldn't believe what he was hearing.
The day before(10/5/08) Richard Fuld, Jr., former CEO of Lehman Brothers(that was forced in to bankruptcy), had the audacity to tell the House Oversight Committee and Government Reform Committee,"Not that anybody on this committee cares about this, but I wake up every single night thinking what I could have done different," he said. "This is a pain that will stay with me for the rest of my life." Oh, really?
Fuld dismissed a call to stop handing out bonuses to executives while the company was drowning in red ink. To add insult top executives also voted to pay bonuses of 23.5 million dollars to themselves during this time. If you think this is appalling how about Fuld's pay in 2000; an estimated total of $484.8 million. Fuld said that was a little high it was closer to $350 million.
These people live in alternate worlds and it's spilled into the Republican playbook making McCain seem more aligned with Wall Street than Main Street.
The William Ayers issue is overblown. Ayers, a member of the Weather Underground a radical 60's group which targeted the government over it's involvement in Viet-Nam, is the latest "bogeyman." It's also fired up GOP crowds as McCain and Governor Sarah Palin have hit the stump. In Wisconsin and Pennsylvania this line of attack has stoked visceral exchanges bordering on "racial incitement." Lots of code words are being tossed. "Not one of us; associating with a known terrorist; Who is Barack Obama; Barack Hussain Obama; doesn't understand small town values etc..." The call and response have included chants of "terroist...terrorist...terrorist; kill him; etc..." This is unsettling. Firing up your base can also create a climate to spark a fervent supporter to take action into their own hands. Meanwhile, McCain has tried to quell this anger, but was even been booed when he told an audience "Obama is not an Arab."
But don't think Obama isn't beneath firing back. He acknowledge on the Tom Joyner Morning Show, "they may throw the first punch, but we'll throw the last punch." The appearance of a web documentary on the "Keating Five" was clearly the counter punch at the beginning of the week.
While I write this the polls show Obama has either a 8 or 10 point lead and he's a factor in several toss up states. This includes some traditionally red states. The ones you want to watch are Virgina, and North Carolina. Pennsylvania and Ohio is going to be tough for the senator from Illinois. The so call Bradley/Wilder Effect is being banded around. This is the phenomena of White voters saying they will vote for a black candidate but switch in the voting booth.
To stymie this there are several attempts by the Obama camp to counter the underlying perception of an African-American man is a scary guy. Over weekend Obama went back to his core strengths...talking directly to people. He also dispatched the Clinton's to Pennsylvania. One of the more amusing attempts comes from comedian Sarah Silverman of the Comedy Channel that asks younger Jewish voters to talk with their elders. It's pretty funny and profane(this should not be seen by youngsters) but also serious because in Florida perceptions and stereotypes are pervasive.
We are in the waning days of voter registration and this is becoming a big problem. There is an estimate there will be 5 million new voters on the rolls come election day. Near Gary, Indiana, the ACORN organization, a grassroots self help group which champions poor people, was called on the carpet for it's attempt to sign up voters. Of the 5000 voters they claimed they signed up half were illegal. This a problem and doesn't bode well.
There was also a New York Times article which show several states were using social security numbers to discredit new voters. The federal government says the numbers should be used as a last resort and not on the first go round. Adding to this problem is the purging of voter rolls 90 days before an election (this is illegal).
All this adds up to problems at the polls on November 4, 2008. There are going to be long lines, and challenges to voters (which will make the wait longer). I asked a colleague how long should it take you to vote? Her answer, "a half hour tops." It's going to be longer at some polls.
Each presidential election I make a stop at the National Office of the NAACP in Baltimore to their war room. This where they have attorneys on standby in various states to root out election day issues. They may want to double their numbers.
With so much at stake can this face off be civil? Will it delve into personal attacks? Can it focus on issues? How much will this debate be a deciding factor with the undecided voters? Can't wait to see.
OBW, Obama is so flushed with cash he has bought prime time TV on several outlets for October 29, 2008. The half hour blocks will air on CBS, NBC, and MSNBC. This comes one week before the election. A savvy move. If this campaign has learned from the primary season its the final weekend before the election which sways a lot of undecided voters.
Reports also say the Obama camp considered buying a NASCAR ad (painting your name on a car). It's nice when you can jump into areas where your opponent believe he's locked-up the key voting block of "NASCAR Dads." I don't think NASCAR would look kindly at injecting politics into car racing. But wait a minute, hasn't Cindy McCain shown up at several NASCAR events. So much for impartiality.