Two Obama developments

The Democratic nominee agrees to fully seat the Michigan and Florida delegates and debate McCain thrice this fall.

Topics: 2008 Elections, Barack Obama, War Room, John McCain, R-Ariz.,

In the spirit of finishing the weekend political update (imagine me with Chevy Chase smirk), there were two new developments related to the Obama campaign.

The first pertains to the upcoming Denver convention: The Obama campaign announced that it supports the full seating of the Michigan and Florida delegations. You could see this decision coming a mile away. (I often wonder what might have happened if the two difficult primary states this year had been, say, nonswing states like Utah and Vermont.) Once he sewed up the nomination, there was no longer any reason to anger Democrats from those two states, no matter how much they flouted the rules earlier this year. Yes, there is the risk of setting a bad precedent, but I suspect that between now and 2012 new party selection rules will be put in place making clear the penalties for the sort of maneuvers Michigan and Florida pulled this year. And if Barack Obama is president, none of this will much matter in 2012 because he’ll be running as the incumbent anyway. (In that scenario it could arise again in 2016, of course.)

The second development was the not-too-surprising agreement by the Obama campaign to three debates this fall. A certain big media head I spoke with over the weekend is about to write a piece arguing that Obama was foolish not to accept John McCain’s gambit on a series of town hall debates, saying it would give Obama the opportunity, once and for all, to dispel any voter doubts about his presidential readiness. Though I take the point, I disagree: Obama must be regarded as the favorite, and favorites should give trailing opponents as few opportunities to catch them as possible. Sure, this smacks of a prevent-defense style of electoral politics, and football fans like to say prevent defenses only prevent the team that is ahead from winning — but overall the reason football coaches use the prevent defense is because, more often than not, it works. (Spectators remember only the few times it fails, not the many more times it works.)

The bottom line is that three regular debates should be ample opportunity for Obama to establish himself as fit for office. If he cannot achieve that standard during those three debates he doesn’t deserve to win.

Thomas F. Schaller is professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the author of "Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South." Follow him @schaller67.

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