The Paradigm Shift: How Obama Captured the Swing Vote

When historians look back at this election, I believe they will see a fundamental paradigm shift in the direction of the country.

With less than three weeks to go, it is becoming apparent that John McCain is going to lose his bid to be Commander-In-Chief to Barack Obama. It also looks like there might be massive congressional gains. These gains will allow a President Obama to enact social and political reform that hasn’t happened since the days of FDR. I foresee a form of universal healthcare on the horizon. I expect forward looking policies regarding the environment, energy and the economy. I expect the Bush Doctrine of unilateral military action first will become a distant memory.

So what happened to turn the populace against the Republican party? Two things: the War in Iraq and Katrina destroying large sections of New Orleans. When Americans realized the lies, corruption and mismanagement of the unprovoked invasion of Iraq, they turned on President Bush and his party. When his cronyism was discovered in the devastating wake of Katrina, the American public turned their back on him personally. His numbers continued to fall to record lows and he is the lamest of ducks. President Bush is, arguably, the worst president in American history on par with President Hoover.

Slowly, Americans woke up to higher gas prices, domestic help when needed the most forgotten and largely ignored, revelations of torture, an occupation of a foreign country because of discredited reasons and a leader who didn’t seem to have a handle on anything. Americans wanted and still want change. The first indications of that occurred in the 2006 elections when Democrats made huge gains.

Wisely, Obama latched onto the theme of change early in his campaign and is now firmly entrenched as the only true candidate of change. Clinton tried to run with experience as her theme, but voters rejected it. McCain, with his years in Washington, also attempted to run a presidential campaign with the experience theme. It was obvious to swing voters his choice of Palin was a way to try and reposition himself as a change candidate.

Still, Obama easily attached McCain to the deeply unpopular, bottom-feeding Bush by simply explaining how he supported his policies 90% of the time. In addition, McCain has not shown how he or his party differs from President Bush.

Voters watched the debates and saw one candidate as a short, grumpy old man shuffling across the stage and the other as a tall, fresh, smart, calm young leader with a winning smile. It was and still is past versus future and in this election the past eight years is not what voters want.

McCain’s only hope in the election was to convince swing/undecided voters Obama was a risky choice. The Wingnut Right pundits such as Limbaugh and Hannity certainly didn’t want McCain, but he became their guy reluctantly. The Republican base got all orgasmic over the Palin pick. However, her downsides (horrible interviews showcasing her lack of qualifications, Troopergate, winking in the camera and the SNL skits) have turned off swing voters.

McCain can’t win with just the base and even Republicans are turning away from the McCain-Palin ticket. At one time there was a term known as “Reagan Democrats.” After this election, I think there might be a new term: “Obama Republicans.”

Record numbers watched the conventions and debates and undecided voters took a long look at the candidates. Swing voters don’t vote for issues, that’s why they are swing voters. They look for how the candidates come across publicly and they see through political grandstanding.

So, what did they see?

Obama is cool. Nothing seems to shake him. He exudes self-confidence and competency. He is calm and thoughtful. Swing voters saw his vice presidential pick as someone who could be president and would govern with him. The fact that he didn’t pick Clinton was perceived as a step forward not looking backwards.

McCain is not cool. He has a well-documented temper. His campaign has been one political gamble after another. The Palin pick was largely seen as a “Hail Mary” to try and woo Clinton voters. Swing voters saw him “suspend” his campaign to “lead” the economic bail out negotiations and then do nothing to help facilitate the solution.

McCain’s tactic of selling Obama as a risky choice was completely undercut in the mind’s of swing voters because of his own campaign’s erratic behavior and political stunts. His continued use of the term “maverick” has, in my opinion, hurt his campaign because voters don’t want a maverick in the White House who uses his gut to make decisions – they want someone who uses his (or her) brain. Besides, they already have a guy in office who uses his gut to make decisions and his approval rating is in the toilet.

This isn’t a “who do I want to have a beer with” election. This isn’t an election year where incumbent administrations have one of their own in the race which is fairly unique. All of these factors have shaped the race.

Voters, in general, in this election want leadership. A good leader inspires. As an inspirational leader in difficult times, Obama wins in a landslide. Just look at his organizational army of activists for his campaign in all 50 states. His use of the internet to raise tremendous amounts of money from people from all walks of life is unprecedented. All of this translates into votes on election day from swing voters looking for inspiration, leadership, optimism and, dare I say it, hope.