Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Will going negative work for McCain?

There's been a lot of hub bub in the World of the Politicos lately about the closing gap between McCain and Obama in national polls (Rasmussen even had the cajones to release a poll showing McCain leading - albeit by a statistically insignificant 1%). It isn't clear (to me at least) why this happened, but it is worth considering that McCain's nasty Paris Hilton/Britney Spears ad was released just days before this sudden closing of the gap (According to Rasmussen, Obama was leading by 6% on July 26 - that's a 7% move in a matter of ten days. Although, to be fair, Rasmussen seems to be gaining notoriety - in my eyes, at least - for releasing polls that are clearly outliers). So, it's worth asking: will going negative win the election for McCain?

Well, no. I don't think anything other than a meltdown by Obama will win this election for McCain. But, I think McCain would have a better chance of winning if he stayed positive - in other words, if he stayed the McCain of the 2000 campaign. I'm not naive; I know that negative campaigning works. But, I think there is a limit to how negative a candidate can go. Remember when Mitt Romney was the golden boy of the Republican Primaries Season (before any of the primaries actually happened, that is)? Granted, he probably wouldn't have won had he stayed positive (that whole Mormon issue was tough on him), but I think he shot himself in the foot by going so negative. He became labeled as "The Sleaze." Okay, maybe I'm the only one who called him that, but the perception abounded. After he slimed McCain, he had to do a lot of backtracking to make it seem like he didn't actually go negative, and people saw right through that. I think people are going to see through McCain's claims that he is a positive, bipartisan maverick and label him "The Sleaze" if he keeps running negative (and irrelevant) ads.

It certainly isn't helping McCain that Obama isn't taking the bait. He is responding with ads that simply say "That isn't true. Here is what I really stand for. Let's get beyond old-fashioned negative politics." McCain's negativity has allowed Obama to hone in on what has been a talking point throughout his whole campaign: we need a new kind of politics. If McCain wants any chance of winning, he can't give the Obama campaign ammo. In essence, he needs to play their game.

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