April 21, 2008
Experts see ‘08 vote as changeable
By Beverly Clark
President Obama will likely be a reality. But wait — McCain could miraculously rise again. Forget 12-point policy plans: Emotional appeals can turn the tide to extraordinary effect for a candidate. And unlike the vast majority of presidential candidates before them, the Democratic contenders have special challenges around race and gender.
Political experts provided such multiple insights during an election forum sponsored by political science honor society Pi Sigma Alpha April 15. Moderated by Emory political scientist Andra Gillespie, panelists included Emory political scientists Alan Abramowitz and Beth Reingold, Emory psychology professor Drew Westen, author of “The Political Brain,” and Tom Baxter, editor of the Southern Political Report and former longtime Atlanta Journal-Constitution political journalist.
Based on the delegate math so far, Abramowitz said Barack Obama will most likely be the Democratic presidential candidate. If current trends hold, he can take it all in November. “It’s Obama’s election to lose, and there is certainly the potential to blow it … but the Democrats are starting out with huge advantages,” he said.
This is a “change” election, and the first since 1952 where there isn’t an incumbent or vice president running. Voter turnout is expected to be high (in the Democrats favor), and the deep dissatisfaction with the economy and the Iraq war works for Democrats as well, Abramowitz said.
“It will take extraordinary talent for the Democrats to lose the election, but then again, Democrats have never been short on talent,” Westen quipped later.
Just mere months ago, Hillary Clinton was the presumptive nominee until Obama switched tactics, Westen said. With few real policy differences between Clinton and Obama, the race comes down to personal appeal. When Obama allowed himself to be the great communicator the American public first saw at the Democratic convention in 2004, “his numbers went up exponentially,” Westen said.
As for Clinton, casting herself as a “change agent” hasn’t really worked. “She has had difficulty making that argument all along. While women can take advantage of their outsider status, Obama has captured that appeal much more,” said Reingold. But like Obama in regards to race, Clinton has had the challenge of being “feminine enough to appear human but not too feminine and be perceived as weak.”
Baxter cautioned that he sees complacency among Democrats going in to the general election. “They need to remember that they will be going up against a Republican war hero who pulled off a miracle in winning the nomination … Republicans may sit around and say they aren’t going to vote for a candidate, but they reliably turn out every November for the party’s nominee.”