Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Controlling the debate

A reader at TPM points out something that I've been thinking about with regards to the presidential election. For the first time since 1992, the Democratic candidate has succeeded in defining what the election is about. Obama has been talking about change for more than a year now. During the primaries, all the other candidates -- including the Republicans -- were falling over themselves to catch up with him, saying that they, too, represented change.

Over the summer, McCain was running on his experience, saying that Obama was a lightweight without any legitimate credentials. His choice of Palin as a running mate undermined that. Now McCain, too, is running on change, saying that his form of change is better than the Obama version.

The Obama strategy rests on the (pretty realistic) assumption that if voters really want change, they'll pick the guy who's not of the party that currently controls the White House. It seems unwise for McCain to play on turf that so clearly favors the Democrat, but he apparently has no choice.

I have no idea how much control of message actually affects elections. Still, current polling (which is still highly volatile) nonwithstanding, which candidate would you rather be right now? Which message is stronger? "This election is about change" or "Okay, this is election is about change, but only a certain amount and type of change."

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