Last week should have marked a new beginning for the Republican presumptive presidential nominee Sen. John McCain. He announced a reorganization of his campaign’s leadership and set off on an economic tour to show he sympathizes with voters’ pain. Instead, a cloud was cast over his economic message when McCain had to defend comments by his economic adviser, former Sen. Phil Gramm, that Americans are experiencing “a mental recession” and are a nation of “whiners,” as well as his own statement that the Social Security system is a “disgrace.”
Democratic strategist Julian Epstein suggests that those comments and McCain’s latest staff shake-up signal internal campaign disorder. “There appears to be significant internal disorganization, lack of discipline, and an inability to control surrogates and keep them on message,” Epstein says. “There’s no real central figure inside the campaign making the trains run properly.” He questions how much McCain really wants to win the election.
But McCain’s senior policy adviser, Nancy Pfotenhauer, argues that the campaign is simply experiencing normal, post-primary growth. “It’s been amusing to watch the focus on structural changes that were bound to occur. From our perspective, it’s a natural evolution,” she says. “McCain has said that Gramm does not speak for him. He has come out with a detailed economic plan that will help in the long- and short-term,” she adds. The Republican had his best fundraising month to date in June, raising more than $22 million.
Presumptive Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama, who also wanted to focus on the economy last week, didn’t fare much better. Flight problems derailed a major economic speech, and news reports centered on his ongoing move to the middle. Pundits questioned whether he risks alienating supporters.
“There’s always the risk that when you have to modify your positions you alienate your base,” says political analyst Michelle Bernard, president of the Independent Women’s Forum. “The real competition is for independent voters, the Reagan Democrats who might vote for McCain, and the ‘Obamicans,’ Republicans who might vote for Obama. Those are the people who will select the next president.”
The Rev. Jesse Jackson was obviously feeling alienated when he was caught on tape whispering that Obama, who has admonished African Americans to be more responsible, has been “talking down to black people.”
Obama spokesman, Bill Burton issued a response saying, “Barack accepts Rev. Jackson’s apology, but will continue to speak out about our responsibilities to ourselves and each other.” In fact, Obama made a similar speech about personal responsibility at the NAACP’s annual convention in Cincinnati Monday night.
Bernard says the controversy highlights the generational differences between black leaders. “Obama’s politics, the way he talks, and the things he talks about reflect a new type of black politics and [differentiates him] from old-line civil rights leaders,” she says.
The Republican National Committee and the McCain campaign charged the Illinois senator with flip-flopping on various issues, including a troop withdrawal timeline from Iraq. But, the Obama campaign says the Democrat has consistently said he would allow the situation on the ground to