Dude, Where’s My Landslide?

I’m not as convinced as Alex Castellanos that Sen. Barack Obama can’t win the presidency. In a post at The Huffington Post Mr. Castellanos claims that Sen. Obama can’t win because, well, he isn’t fully formed.

John McCain is a complete and well-formed man. Barack Obama is completing himself. As he moves to fit what he perceives to be a right-of-center country, he distances himself from the simple and authentic passion of a young candidate who once pledged “Change We Can Believe In.”

Quite to the contrary I think that Sen. Obama can win the election but it’ll be a long, hard, painful slog. He emphatically can’t win by appealing solely to Democratic primary voters and, as I noted recently, I think he must abandon principles valuable to him to win the prize. Rick Moran, commenting on the Castellanos post, notes:

Alas, Obama could never come close to winning running on the same platform he ran on in the primaries. McGovern tried it and got slaughtered. Hence, the wild lurch to the center that confused even his most rabid acolytes, angered the left, and put off the great center of American politics who recent polls have shown moving toward McCain.

That’s quite right. Under our system it doesn’t help you more to get 100% of the vote in Cambridge, Massachusetts (or New York or Los Angeles) rather than 90%. Massachusetts, New York, and California only have so many electoral votes, in the cases of New York and California, formidable numbers, but you get no more votes for solidifying your base in those states than you do for 50% plus 1.

In a similar vein, David Brooks, too, notes Sen. Obama’s formlessness:

And so it goes. He is a liberal, but not fully liberal. He has sometimes opposed the Chicago political establishment, but is also part of it. He spoke at a rally against the Iraq war, while distancing himself from many antiwar activists.

The conundrum for the Obama campaign is whether it can secure voters outside of Democratic strongholds without depressing the enthusiasm for Sen. Obama’s candidacy. Sen. Obama is not running on his resume because his slender resume would not convince you that he’d make a good president. He’s not running on policies because he can’t get elected on policies. He’s running on enthusiasm and it’s far too early to tell whether that will carry him across the finish line.

Meanwhile, ignore the polls. They aren’t even the little man behind the curtain, they’re the flying monkeys shrieking overhead—ultimately irrelevant to the outcome of the story. I continue to believe as I have believed for some time: this election will be decided at the margins, by very small numbers of votes, and, importantly, by very small numbers of electoral votes. No landslide for you!

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