Turn around, Obama

The new Zogby poll is way early and possibly imperfect, but suggests Obama needs something to turn things around.

Published August 5, 2008 9:18PM (EDT)

Last week, I dared to suggest that maybe the Barack Obama world tour would not be greeted as favorably by voters as it was by the mainstream media. Monday, I double-dare suggested that John McCain's ad campaign, however inaccurate or outrageous, could be effective. (Note: Before proceeding, I'd politely ask some Salon commenters to remember that an observation is not the same as an opinion; just because I remark upon or even predict that something is happening or will happen doesn’t mean I'm glad it happened or am advocating that it should. I find it curious that certain readers are complaining that I am in the tank for Obama while others are complaining that I am trying to undermine his candidacy, and the only explanation I can find is that some are mistaking observations for opinions.)

Anyway, there's a new Zogby poll out. Despite the fact that results from Zogby polls have been questionable in the past, usually Zogby results are dismissed as too favorable to Democrats, so the latest results showing Obama tanking with key groups (women, young voters) should cause some alarm -- with major emphasis here on "some." It is still only August: In the next three months we still have veep picks, conventions, presidential debates, dozens more ads, hundreds more candidate appearances, and what will seem like millions of spin and counterspin points from both campaigns.

Still, I think there are two lessons to take away from the post-Democratic primary, pre-convention summer interregnum. One, Obama's intent to play high-road politics may be insufficient for the moment. We can all get high and mighty and decry negative politics and rough ads, but dirty politics often works. (About 75 percent of ads in 2004 by George W. Bush, a weak incumbent, were negative against John Kerry, who was afraid to criticize Bush at the Boston convention; Bush won.) And two, the more time Obama spends on defense the worse things will get for him.

Somebody needs to wake up David Axelrod. It is time for him to prove he is far closer to the Democrats' new Karl Rove than their next Bob Shrum. Because remember this, too, about 2004: Though by August of that year there were debates and conventions and such still to come, the agreed-upon, fatal turning point for Kerry happened that month. It's early, sure, but never too early for an Obama turnaround. So herewith a heavily signposted opinion derived from the foregoing obersvations: It is time for Obama to attack.

By Thomas Schaller

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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2008 Elections Barack Obama David Axelrod War Room