Obama can't close the deal

Robert Novak:

Barack Obama is a magnetic candidate supported by a disciplined, well-organized campaign. John McCain seems wooden, with a campaign that appears to be in shambles. Yet Obama's lead in the polls over McCain is fragile because he so far hasn't won the support of a majority of voters.

An effective, massively publicized foreign trip failed to push Obama to the 50 percent mark. Hopes of Democrats and fears of Republicans that he'd get a major bounce in the polls when he clinched the nomination or on his campaigning abroad haven't been realized.

Overnight surveys by Gallup and Rasmussen the last two weeks have shown Obama at around 46 percent, while McCain has dropped from 45 percent to 41 percent - for a 6-point deficit that is by no means insurmountable.

These numbers have prompted speculation by GOP political practitioners that McCain can back into the presidency, as he backed into the nomination.

Not even Bob Dole's dismal 1996 candidacy gen- erated less enthusiasm in GOP ranks than McCain's 2008 effort. In winning the nomination when he'd been counted out after the disintegration of his campaign structure, he showed more fortitude than skill. He was blessed by weak competitors, who eliminated each other and left him the last man standing.

But Obama is the most spectacular campaigner of his generation, with appeal well beyond Democratic ranks. That he lingers below the 50 percent mark is a mystery. It's especially troubling to Democrats who recall past candidates taking a huge lead in the summer before being overtaken or nearly overtaken by a surging GOP opponent. In 1976, Jimmy Carter took a 33-point summer lead over President Gerald Ford and won in a photo finish. In '88, Michael Dukakis led George H.W. Bush by 17 points after being nominated in Atlanta. Al Gore and John Kerry were ahead of George W. Bush in the summer.

Clearly, Obama hasn't yet closed the deal with the people to accept a young, inexperienced African-American as their president. He had virtually clinched the nomination when white working men in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia poured out to vote and carried their states comfortably for Hillary Clinton - not out of unalterable affection for her.

Obama's difficulty in reaching the 50 percent mark reflects an overwhelmingly white undecided vote at 10 to 15 percent. These were his target voters when he ventured into the war zones to show his mettle as a future commander in chief. He looked good, sounded good and made no serious gaffes. But sitting by the popular Gen. David Petraeus and disagreeing with his military judgment may not have been the way to win over undecided white working men.

The toughest interrogation of Obama was CBS' Katie Couric's in Jordan last Tuesday. She asked four times whether the troop surge he had opposed was instrumental in reducing violence in Iraq. Each time, he answered from talking points by citing "the great effort of our young men and women in uniform."


I think Couric's questions will haunt Obama for the remainder of the campaign, because he has no good honest answer. He therefore comes across as dishonest or ignorant. That makes it easier for people to remain unsettled by his campaign.

The big problem for him is even when he gets a slight bounce as he did after the world tour, the commitments are not firm. There are about eight percent of voters who sometimes give him as a preference and sometimes slip into undecided. He will have difficulty holding onto them. In all the major states he lost the undecideds during the primaries. While he has some passionate followers, they are no where near a majority of voters.


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