Monday, October 20, 2008

Two Thoughts on Gen. Powell endorsing Sen. Obama for president

“As gifted as he is,” Mr. Powell said of Mr. McCain, a friend for 25 years, “he is essentially going to execute the Republican agenda, the orthodoxy of the Republican agenda, with a new face and a maverick approach to it, and he’d be quite good at it. But I think we need a generational change.”

NY Times story.

Two responses:

1. Did Sen. McCain foresee this? If so, could his prior knowledge of the endorsement explain why Sen. McCain has been running such a nutty campaign all summer? First, he plucked the wildly unprepared Gov. Palin as his VP pick. Then, he suspended his campaign to 'solve' the economic crisis days after saying the fundamentals of the economy are sound. More recently, he slid between the back-and-forth depictions of Obama as terrorist-sympathizer and Obama as respectable family man. In short, Sen. McCain has consistently acted like a bigger underdog than the polls have suggested that he is. The question must be: Why? The conventional answer by proponents is that Sen. McCain is a 'maverick,' a 'gambler.' On the other hand, his critics have called him 'erratic' and 'unreliable.'

Perhaps instead, Sen. McCain's actions were based on knowledge that none of the rest of us -- proponents and critics alike -- were privy to: Maybe he knew he was facing a major October endorsement by one of America's most legit political figures, and ran his campaign according to that future-based knowledge rather than the behind-the-curve polls.

I know, I know, I speculate here. But political analysts must consider that, by definition, we proceed with less data than the political actors themselves have access to. It is arrogant for us to think that men and women with as much at stake as Sen. McCain are acting 'erratically' because they are acting in ways different than what our limited understanding of the situation leads us to believe they should act. And as evidence, the NY Times reports that Gen. Powell and Sen. McCain met to discuss any endorsement back in June, meaning that Sen. McCain could have known about the coming endorsement as far back as the beginning of summer.

2. What, then, will be the effect of this endorsement? Is Gen. Powell -- former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, National Security Advisor to President Ronald Reagan, Secretary of State to President George W. Bush, and prominent Republican -- the kind of figure who can sway voters or impart legitimacy? The data seem to say, yes. Gen. Powell remains a man of legit standing to most Americans. Check out these data.

1* Do you have a very favorable, somewhat favorable, somewhat unfavorable or very unfavorable impression of Colin Powell?

35% Very favorable

45% Somewhat favorable

11% Somewhat unfavorable

4% Very unfavorable

5% Not sure


4* If Powell endorses one of the candidates, how likely is that to have an influence on the way that you will vote?

5% Very likely

7% Somewhat likely

26% Not very likely

57% Not at all likely

5% Not sure

80 percent favorable ratings. 12 percent say they are very or somewhat likely to be influenced by Gen. Powell's endorsement. Those are significant data, and now they are put in Sen. Obama's favor with but fifteen days to go. A major story, no doubt about it.

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