5 Reasons Why McCain has lost

[Photo: I ask Sen. McCain what he would do to
transform America's image around the world.
He knocks it out of the park...in June 2008.
But since then...]

Hi everyone!

Well with just over a week to go, it is clear that Barack Obama will be the next President of the United States - barring some YouTube viral video involving Obama caught in some unspeakable act.

The key question I will explore in this posting is:
Was it ever possible for John McCain to win the White House this year?
And if so, what did he need to do to succeed?

First of all, it was theoretically possible but highly unlikely. The economic catastrophe of the past month was merely the last straw after eight years of the Bush Administration and the most unpopular President since Richard Nixon. So the top priority for the McCain campaign was to never sound, look or imply that he would be the 'third Bush term' as the Obama campaign so cleverly labelled a McCain Presidency. This he failed to do. The Obama ads using McCain's own words that he supported the President 90% of the time were devestating.

Secondly, he needed to energize the Republican base while targeting the independent/swing voter like a laser. It was a balancing act that an engineer would have trouble calibrating. In McCain's case his choice of Sarah Palin did half the job, but the full job needed to be done. Everytime she opened her mouth she lost thousands of independent voters as they realized she was not qualified to be Vice President, let alone President. In fact, it was doubly awkward for McCain because she continues to get more coverage than he does. This is never a good idea.

Thirdly, he had to frame the issue as "which leader can protect Americans in troubled times?" Implied in that ballot question are two themes - "secure our family and our country's financial future" and "secure America in a dangerous world". Did he accomplish those? No. His self-confessed "I know nothing about economics" pretty well ensured that he was not going to be taken seriously when the economic tsunami hit in September. [His response to the crisis was highly questionable to say the least. He suspended his campaign, stiffed Letterman (the worst sin of all?) flew the next morning to Washington - flew out without a deal and had trouble finding credible ground. Obama stayed cool, worked to get a better deal for 'Main Street' and was able to explain in layman's language what happened to cause such a calamity.]

Although Obama is no economist either, he knew that people don't expect you to be one - they just want to feel that you have a plan to deal with it. The now-tiresome 'Joe the Plumber' theme of McCain-Palin has got some traction, but the fact that Joe was a fraud, took a lot of the potential out of that effort to paint Obama as a socialistic income-distributor.

Fourthly, his tone was no longer Presidential, while Obama's became increasingly so. It was most apparent in the last debate, where McCain constantly rolled his eyeballs, sneeringly debunked Obama's points, while Obama responded with a dazzling smile and a high road, cool tone.

Finally, John McCain needed to take the issue of age off the table, and he didn't. Reagan did it masterfully in the second debate against Walter Mondale in 1984:

With Sen. McCain's increasingly angry and volatile attacks on Obama, it raised the spectre again that he is too old for the job. Once that question took hold, the Palin 'suitability-for-the-Oval Office' issue rocketed to the top of voters' minds.

So, John, we hardly knew ye'! You had to be in a very targeted and disciplined, narrow channel, and you weren't able to do it. To give you your due, you had overwhelming odds against you. You worked harder than any candidate half your age, but the tide has gone out, and it has left you standing on the shore.

On a lighter note...
Humor played a huge role in this campaign - particularly Tina Fey's channeling Sarah Palin - which was devastatingly funny (and possibly devastatingly politically). Saturday Night Live neatly captured the two huge burdens that McCain is carrying in this election:

Until next time....vote early [but please don't vote often]!



Who won the debate?

Welcome back - and so soon!
After recovering from the Canadian election, we were thrown right back into the thick of the Presidential race and the last Presidential debate.
Alright, who won the debate? In my view, John McCain had his best debate of the three that he's had, while Obama was flat and played it safe. McCain won on substance, but Obama won on style - perception, that is.

Although the sit-down format with moderator Bob Schieffer was in sharp contrast to Sen. McCain's preferred 'town hall' approach, he seemed comfortable with it.

The major thrust of this debate was that Obama was forced onto the defensive almost all the way through. Obama didn't find his 'zone' until about a half an hour into the 90 minute match. Even then, however, he had to continually explain his voting record, his conversations with 'Joe the Plumber' [that, however, got tired pretty fast on both their parts], and his tax policy.

Take a look at the 'Joe the Plumber' sequence with Obama on the campaign trail and judge for yourself: [sorry about the CNN.com commercial for Exxon-Mobil - they don't pay me anything for this]

Did you notice how Obama does all the talking? A little more listening might have been more impressive!

McCain had to score a big win tonight - which is very hard to do against the smooth and cool Obama. While he didn't do that, he served his campaign well, giving them a foundation for the next three weeks.

Debate Perceptions

1. McCain managed to move away from his anger and kept it far more focused on the issues. While he brought up Wiliam Ayers, he didn't bog down in it. Obama, I believe was able to put it to rest.
2. McCain fleshed out a very clear storyline on his economic approach - cut wasteful spending, reform government and bureaucratic agencies, cut taxes. He contrasted this with Obama's spending promises continually.
3. Sen. McCain looked too sneering visually on the split screen when Sen. Obama was talking. His anger - while more under control than last time - was still palpable. Women in particular seemed to respond poorly whenever he did that, as the CNN 'undecided voter' graph indicated.
4.Obama didn't enjoy himself, but did find a few moments of lightness and smiles, which helped him when he was being put into a corner on several occasions.

So who looked and sounded Presidential? Obama. Who looked and sounded strong and tough? McCain. If the undecided voters are scared and they want tough leadership, they may be more attracted to McCain.

Here's a good example of a strong intervention by McCain on whether he is Bush's third term:


On balance, perception went to Obama, while substance went to McCain. Although I didn't listen to it on the radio, I would not be surprised if, as with Richard Nixon in 1960, the majority may well have chosen McCain. However, as we know, the majority who watched the Kennedy-Nixon debates, thought Kennedy won. That is no doubt the reality of what we saw tonight.

What should McCain do in the final three weeks?

It will depend on how he focuses his campaign message, his advertising and his own time. Go to the battleground states, turn positive and specific about what he will do to change America for the better. Stay off the negative. Try to channel Ronald Reagan, not Bob Dole.

CNN's post-debate performance

One problem I had was with CNN's post-debate analysis. Campbell Brown - true to form - given her fairly obvious bias throughout the campaign, introduced the results of an immediate poll. It was comprised, she admitted, of a large majority of Democratic voters who thought Obama won. Surprise! Surprise! You could see John King and Anderson Cooper were uncomfortable with the bias and did indeed point it out. But the damage is done as that kind of skewed coverage has an influence on viewers. The real decisions on who won debates often take place 48 hours later when the pundits have spoken.

So here's a suggestion to CNN. You may have the self-titled, "best political team on television", but wouldn't it be nice to have a credible poll?
I could be wrong, but I doubt it.

Until next time,


Harper Finishes Strong; McCain's got one last chance

Welcome back!
Stephen Harper has to be relieved at tonight's election results. Although he didn't get a majority, he was able to substantially strengthen his position, with a high minority, and he will be able to govern with more confidence. It will now take three parties to defeat him instead of two.

The night was a debacle for the Liberals and for Stephane Dion personally. However, the last few days have been rough for the Liberals and fortunate for the Conservatives.

How did this happen? Several factors led to the results:

1. Stephane Dion's interview debacle on CTV Atlantic (ATV) took him off message [see my previous blog below] and shook the confidence of wavering voters, who always had lingering questions about his leadership capacity. Although it may have been unfair, the perception was so negative that his aides tried to stop the 'do-overs' from being shown. Rightly so. Any doubts about Mr. Dion's sensitivity to the 'unfairness' of that interview was underscored as he fended off questions from CTV reporter Roger Smith by saying, "the last network I would give an interview to would be CTV. " Ouch. [correction: Dion's exact words were "The last person I would speak to first is CTV."] Although mangled in syntax, it was accompanied by a push from Dion to the reporter and an angry tone. It was clear he was furious with the network for what he felt was bad treatment by the network on the controversial 'do-over' issue. See for yourself:

Mr. Dion is a decent man who deserved a better fate than this, but politics is a tough business and his Green Shift plan was a difficult sell at this time - or possibly at any time! He didn't have the personality and ease to connect with people. He exceeded expectations in this campaign - not just because they were so low before - but also because people could see his essential decency. They just don't see him as a leader.

2. The $25 billion infusion by the Government into the banks' mortgage portfolios - although late in the game - was seen by undecided voters to have been the right thing to do. This was reinforced by the record surge in the Toronto Stock Exchange as voters were going to the polls.
3. Mr. Dion could not seem to connect with Ontario voters, and his loss there was the Tories'and NDP's gain. The Conservatives were up 9, the Liberals down 13 and the NDP up 4.

4. The Green Party votes did not match the polling numbers and it seems like, in the final days, a number of their potential supporters took the hint from their Leader, Elizabeth May, and engaged in strategic voting.

5. The NDP did very well. They were able to target their votes in key ridings, resulting in an 8 seat gain - their best effort since the heyday of Ed Broadbent.

One of the key results of the election was that, due to the collapse of the Liberal vote, the combined Liberal-NDP seat count was not nearly enough to pose a possible coalition. So we could be at the polls again within the next two years, once the Liberals hold their leadership convention.

So congratulations to Stephen Harper and the Conservative team. They had a rocky journey but can definitely claim, that in the midst of unprecedented global economic turmoil and stock market meltdown that would normally impale any sitting government, they were able to pull off a strong performance. The Prime Minister had a statesmanlike victory speech, reaching out to the 2 independent MPs with an olive branch [why not? he's going to need them on some tight votes], and a high road message to all who threw everything at him.

That's one down and one to go - south of the border.

Preview of The Final Presidential Debate

Wednesday night is do-or-die night for John McCain. He needs to clearly and effectively set out his economic plan for Americans who are angry and frightened about what has happened. He needs to clearly contrast his approach to Barack Obama's, without being nasty. He has to look and sound Presidential.

He should drop his rumored plans to attack Obama's contacts with Bill Ayers. They are past it, and bringing it up will only backfire, as it will say more about McCain than about Obama. Talk about what people care about. Speak for them not just to them.

Looking forward to that one for sure!

Until next time....


Who is going to win the Canadian Election - and Why?

Hi everyone!
Welcome back to my blog. Last time I focused on the Presidential campaign (still Obama's to lose). This time I want to focus north of the border to Canada's increasingly exciting election campaign.

All elections boil down to the 45 'swing' or battleground ridings, and look at what has happened in Canada the past two weeks:


That will tell you everything you need to know about how this election has gone. If the trend lines are not reversed, then it's all bets off as to who wins.

The Rules of Successful Campaigns

The first rule of successful campaigns: control the ballot question. Well, due to the stock market meltdown, that has pretty well been taken care of. The ballot question now is, 'which leader (party) am I prepared to risk with my family's financial future?' That should work to the Tories' favour [hence the 'risky' anti-Dion ads which have blanketed the airwaves even long before the election.]

Stephen Harper was slow to respond to the rapidly escalating fear factor among Canadians - counting on public revulsion towards Stephane Dion's 'Green Shift' to carry the day. However, as the Liberals began to gain momentum, he has kicked into gear this week with a much more vigorous policy response - kicking in $25 billion in mortgage insurance backing (without exposing the taxpayers). Dion and Layton have been hammering away at the 'Harper doesn't get it' and 'Harpernomics' to some effect.

The second rule of successful campaigns: make all your news deliberate. By this rule the Conservatives have had some problems. From 'pooping puffins' to Mr. Harper's advice to consumers to take advantage of under-priced stocks to bizarro candidate eruptions to accusations of plagiarism of Australia's former PM Joh Howard, this has been a particularly rough journey. Although Stephane Dion has had his slip-ups, as Opposition Leader, he is not under the same media magnifying glass as the Prime Minister. However, he did have quite a gaffe yesterday:


By the way Mr. Dion, in the middle of an election campaign, you really can't "start again". Stephen Harper had a very effective low-key 'more-in-sadness-than-in-anger' response. No sense of triumphalism there! And it worked! On CBC.ca: " Harper said the episode highlights greater concerns than language comprehension, and shows instead that Dion has no plan for dealing with the global credit crisis that is threatening to spill over into Canada."

The third rule of successful campaigns: never sit on a lead. Tell us your priorities, your action plan for the next four years. Don't merely tweak a few policies and dribble out a few small initiatives. When people are upset, when anxiety is high and trust of politicians is low, then you need a strong, bold and confident vision for the future, with a strong strategy to get us there. The economic destabilization required an immediate response and as we see in the American election, all leaders need to communicate that they 'feel our pain'.

So with four days to go, what will happen? From the beginning I have predicted a minority Conservative government. That is still the more-than-likely outcome. 'Coulda' 'woulda' 'shoulda' will have to wait for another day.

Watch out for a Surprise Ending...
If it's a razor-thin minority however, watch for the Liberals, NDP and Green to possibly forge an alliance that they would be prepared to take to the Governor General - either before Parliament sits or on the first vote of confidence in the Conservative government.

If you don't think it can happen, I would remind you that the Ontario election of 1986 would be an object lesson. In the wake of a Conservative minority result, the Liberals and NDP hammered out a two-year coalition and formed the next government - without going to the polls. It could happen here. Check it out.


So Happy Thanksgiving to my fellow Canadians! Then on Tuesday, get out and vote!

All the best


Who won the 2nd debate?

Welcome back everyone!

It's once again debate night in America. The election landscape has shifted under the ground of the Presidential campaigns - as a result of the Wall Street meltdown - with significant impacts on the race. The American public is shaken and angry. Their desire for change in the status quo has never been more pronounced. 

John McCain has emerged from the Congressional bailout with diminished stature. Overheated, over-reacting without a clear, strategic path ahead for the economy. Barack Obama, on the other hand, has emerged as the voice of 'change'. 

Sarah Palin has been a 'shooting star' in this campaign. At first she shot up brightly at the Republican Convention with an incredible speech, and then her 'star' flamed out when she undermined her credibility by the bizarre campaign choice to put her in front of Charlie Gibson, and then - incredibly - into an interview with Katie Couric. She clearly couldn't sustain a credible line with either of them. Her 'better-than-expected' debate performance stopped the bleeding but didn't heal the wounds. Biden looked strong and clearly won going away. 

Tonight's Debate

So now we have the second of three Presidential debates. One of the last opportunities for Sen. McCain to close the widening gap with the Obama campaign. 

Tonight, he needed to clearly tell the American people what he would do to turn the economic mess around. He needed to demonstrate the kind of Presidential timber that the American public so desperately wants. Did he do it? Not as well as he needed to. On substance he was adequate for sure. Was he compelling? Did he offer a stronger, clearer differentiation from Obama? No.

He came across as angry, somewhat bitter and overall negative in his persona. On substance, he got better on foreign affairs, and he closed well, but he needed to show the visionary, leadership side of his personality. This was his town hall forum with which he is so experienced and he was definitely improved from his first, somewhat stilted, debate performance. 

A Presidential candidate needs to demonstrate that he has a strong sense of priorities. So what does he say? He will attack energy, health care and entitlements at the same time. What about the recession? The impact on Main Street? On consumers? If they go down, where would the money come from?

In contrast, Obama came across coolly and fully in charge. He didn't lash out bitterly. He was comfortable in his own skin.  His silver tongue served him well. Not much content that we hadn't heard before. Nothing seems to faze the guy. He successfully positioned McCain as  the 'same old same old'. Ouch! 

Either Sen. McCain is no longer listening to his aides, or he's got the wrong ones. 

So to use the common analogy - no knock-out punches, but Obama won it on points. That's more than he needed.

John McCain has one more debate to turn it around. He must win on October 15th if he has even a slim chance of pulling it off.

Memo to Sen. McCain

So Senator McCain, here's the advice. Listen carefully. Stop the angry tone. They aren't working, and diminish you. Speak calmly and clearly to the American people through the camera. Largely ignore Obama. He bugs you and it shows. Speak to the higher vision of America. Reach into your heart and connect with those who ache for a new and fresh start, anchored in the ideals of the American dream. 

With less than a month to go, Senator McCain, you need to have the ability to take a deep breath and kill the negative campaigning and ads. We're not hearing your vision for the future while you're digging up old news about Bill Ayers. No one cares - no matter how often you repeat it. Oh, by the way, note what Barack and Michele did at the end of the debate? They engaged people, looked like winners. You and Cindy were tight, distant and hurried off the stage. Didn't look like winners to me. Oh, and by the way, drop the nasty 'that one' when referring to Obama, and the constant repetition of 'my friends'.

To coin a phrase, 'it's the economy stupid'. 

Of course, it's only my opinion.

Until next time......


Winners and Losers in Debates

Welcome back to my new blog format and post-debate(s) analysis.
It's the most...wonderful time...of the Year!!! Debate central!
First ....Canada.
The French language debate took place last night. Stephen Harper was under a 4-way barrage and emerged unscathed, if somewhat too muted. Clearly his goal was to stay cool, knowing he would be attacked vociferously...and that indeed came to pass. How did he do?
Click here from my CFRA radio interview this morning (October 2nd):
"Madely in the Morning - 7:40am --- Steve Madely is joined by Barry McLoughlin of McLoughlin Media to discuss what he believes the leaders need to do in tonight's debate."

The English language debate tonight was a different experience. All of the leaders brought more of their 'A' game to the debate. Stephen Harper brought some passion with his cool demeanor this time out. He took opportunities to push back against Stephen Harper and did particularly well against Jack Layton by saying that he - alone among leaders - only went to publicly operated health clinics. Jack Layton had to admit that he went to the Shouldice Clinic - privately operated but publicly paid. Hhmmmm. The NDP are strongly opposed to private delivery of public health.

Elizabeth May of the Green Party was much better in the English debate. She was strong and succinct while connecting through the camera. Stephen Harper treated her courteously and gave her as much oxygen as possible (in order to take it away from Dion and Layton).

Jack Layton was much more effective also - except for that awkward moment noted above). He wasn't over-smiling and exhibiting tense and aggressive body language. He demonstrated just about the right blend of strength and personal warmth (except towards Harper).

Gilles Duceppe was quite effective as usual - and no doubt once again English voters will be pleasantly surprised at how reasonable he sounds, and his effectiveness. It won't help him directly in Quebec, but the anticipated media coverage will give him some resonance in Quebec among his francophone base.

So who won?
Not a clear winner, but some interesting outcomes, based on a report card scoring:

Stephen Harper, by not losing, speaking to his target voters, while still staying cool under fire.
Elizabeth May - really paid off on her English debate debut. Too much on the defence, but much of that is inevitable.

Jack Layton was able to find his voice and was able to shine in key moments - especially in the debate over the arts - a sensitive topic for the Harper campaign, which may well have hurt them, especially in Quebec.

Stephane Dion built on his better-than-expected debate performance from the night before and it may well help reverse the tide that had gone out in the first two weeks of the campaign.

Elizabeth May had the most obvious benefit out of the evening. She showed she belonged, she gave confidence to her supporters, and made a dent in the 'undecided' voters who may be thinking of strategic voting.

The real winner, hands down, was Steve Paiken of TVO. He showed a strong hand without spoiling the fireworks.

Vice Presidential Debate
Most viewers tuned in to watch a train wreck. They were pretty confident that Sarah Palin would add yet another Tina Fey opportunity. While she was shaky at times - especially on the role of the Vice President, and some awkward moments, she didn't make a fool of herself. She didn't lose votes, but probably didn't gain any either.

Biden Does Well....but Not Outstanding
Joe Biden avoided any verbal gaffes. He came in with high expectations and largely delivered on the promise. He won on substance; he did well on tone and manner. He was also able to avoid sounding condescending towards her - which was vital. Biden treated her as an equal. Clearly he is a tough guy to beat.

Palin Exceeds Expectations
Although she was occasionally evasive on the questions, and too reliant on her notes, Gov. Palin was surprisingly good on foreign policy and clearly comfortable on energy issues. Palin pretty well held her own and the sighs of relief can be heard in every Republican home in America...especially John McCain's. Her way of speakin' is an acquired taste - if ever- and her bashing of 'mainstream media' somewhat strained at this time.

Her tendency to exaggerate - the 'Obama/Biden raising the white flag of surrender' stuff is definitely going too far. When she does the hockey mom routine, it speaks to those whose top-of-mind question is, 'does this person understand me and our family?' She looked into the camera - as did Biden - and made connections with their target voters.

So Now it's up to McCain
The second Presidential debate on October 7th will be more critical than ever, if John McCain is going to turn this around.

Until then...hang onto your hats!