It's all over but the counting

As the candidate of change, the election was Obama's to lose

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The Gazette, Sunday, November 2, 2008

This was always going to be a change election in the United States.

Whichever candidate for the presidency captured, articulated and personified the mood for change would certainly enjoy a huge comparative advantage over party rivals in the primaries and his opponent in the general election.

And in that sense, as the candidate of hope and change, this has always been Barack Obama's election to lose, and there is no way for him to lose it. And Hillary Clinton, despite the historic nature of her own candidacy, was always the candidate of continuity in the Democratic primaries. In the general election, John McCain's only hope of capturing change was to play his maverick credentials successfully, running against the Washington establishment of his own party, as well as renouncing the legacy of George W. Bush.

As well, in a general election, there is an important test of competence in that a candidate seeking rather than holding such an office can be measured only by the competence of the campaign.

In September and October, Obama passed that test with flying colours, while McCain failed it abysmally. His choice of Sarah Palin as his vice-presidential running mate proved to be a reflection on his own judgment as much as on her qualifications. Whatever lift his campaign got from her selection disappeared in a series of devastating Tina Fey impersonations on Saturday Night Live. "I can see Russia from my house." Ouch.

But McCain really lost the election in mid-September when he suspended his campaign because of the meltdown in the stock market and the near collapse of the U.S. financial system. It was the second time in three weeks he pulled that stunt. First, he delayed the opening of the Republican convention because of a hurricane blowing into New Orleans on the third anniversary of the Katrina disaster, a timely reminder of Republican incompetence.

Delaying a convention is one thing, suspending an entire election campaign because of a crisis in financial and equity markets is quite another, and hardly a solution to the problem.

McCain's response to the financial crisis was one of panicking in the face of it, rather than managing through it. He squandered his inherent advantage as the scarred war hero, ready to be commander-in-chief.

Meanwhile, Obama was cerebral and cool, supporting Washington's bailout package, but offering constructive proposals to improve it. And the competence of his campaign is obvious - just as he had a plan for winning the 2,025 delegates he needed for the nomination in the spring, so he has a plan for winning 270 votes in the Electoral College needed to win the White House in the fall. And not just in Democratic blue states, but in battleground states, and swing states, even Republican states such as Virginia, enough to give him a comfortable cushion in the College as well as the popular vote. And, as no one has before him, he has brought campaigning into the Internet era, and created a standing army of 5 million volunteers.

And then there's the money. In all, his campaign has raised an unprecedented $700 million, more than $150 million in September alone, most of it in small donations online. Last week's $3- million prime time infomercial on three networks hardly put a dent in his finances, and might have helped him close the deal.

But on the fundamentals, the deal has always been there to be closed. A New York Times poll on Friday had this key finding on the mood of America in the days before Tuesday's election: "Eighty- nine per cent of people view of the economy negatively and 85 per cent think the country is moving in the wrong direction."

Those are more than change numbers. Those are throw-the-bums-out numbers. To the question of whether America is ready for a black president, the answer might be hidden until Tuesday. But to the question of whether Obama is ready to be president, the answer is yes. He has passed every test, and proven he can take a punch, while setting standards for inspirational rhetoric not heard since John F. Kennedy.

In the Times poll, Obama leads by 10 points, while other polls have the election as close as three points. But Obama is ahead in every nationwide poll, and well ahead in the state polls he needs to cross the 270 finish line.

U.S. presidential races generally tighten up in the closing days, as voters go home to their normal party preference. But sometimes elections break open, in a decisive moment of change, as was the case with Ronald Reagan over Jimmy Carter in 1980.

Whether Obama wins by a narrow margin or a sweep, he is going to win, because in a year of change, he is the candidate of change.

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