Thursday, September 11, 2008

Together Forever?

Parting ways can be difficult, which would be one explanation for why McCain and Palin are still campaigning together now that the convention is behind us. That explanation would be wrong, but it makes for a nice lead in for today’s post.   

Traditionally, after the conventions, the newly foraged party candidates for President and Vice President head off and do about 3-4 days of heavy campaigning together. After that, they bid each other ado and separate. The logic in separating is that two people can cover far more ground than a single person, and since a party ticket is usually designed to appeal to different types of voters, the splitting of the two candidates allows each to go and campaign separately to court these voters. It is not unusual for the ticket-mates to meet back together for large events, big fundraises, or meet for rallies in swing states, but generally each will spend the month of September campaigning alone.   

Obama and Biden have followed this traditional form to the letter. After the convention, the two drew huge crowds at several joint events and have since separated to court voters individually.  Since separating, Obama and Biden have done several big events together, but by and large they have been keeping separate travel schedules, events, and hotels.   

Over on the republican side, the original plan coming out of the convention was for something very similar for McCain and Palin. They would do a few events together and then separate to hit their respective bases of support. However, this has not occurred. Rather, they have repeatedly added joint events and have not really separated yet (take today’s joint campaign stop in northern VA).   

The pundits have noticed this occurrence, but have attributed it to the fact that when McCain was campaigning alone before the convention, he was pulling crowds in the 100s, whereas after the convention, he and Palin together have been attracting thousands. Thus, the two have not split yet because they want to ride the wave.   

While there is clearly merit in this explanation, I have trouble with it because logically it doesn’t make sense. It is not the fact that they are campaigning together that is drawing larger crowds, but that the republican convention really energized republicans. So whereas the support for McCain was luke-warm before the convention, that indifferent sentiment has been completely replaced by an air of excitement and enthusiasm.   

Now some will claim that if Palin wasn’t with him, he wouldn’t get the crowds. So what? If Palin is the reason they are getting crowds, then her campaigning on her own would still pull the large crowds and McCain could be working a different, if smaller, group of people at the same time. To me, the republicans’ strategy here makes no sense if the explanation is to ride the Palin wave to bigger crowds for McCain.

However, there are two alternative hypotheses that do explain why the republicans have not yet shifted to the split campaigning. The first is that the McCain staff is very afraid that if they separate, Palin will pull more people to her events than McCain will to his. Such an event would clearly be covered in the media and make McCain look weak. Obviously, the VP candidate should not pull more than the boss.   

The second alternative hypothesis is that the McCain camp is afraid to have Palin campaign by herself on the national stage at this point. It is clear that she can be very powerful when she is protected and in a controlled environment, but if she is on her own at her own events, the McCain campaign will have little control over what she says or how she answers questions.   

In both cases, these alternative hypotheses are good news for Obama. The longer McCain and Palin campaign together, the more ground they will lose as Obama and Biden each individually reach out to voters. Plus, McCain and Palin will have to separate at some point, and in terms of having something embarrassing happen, the farther it is from November 4th, the better off it will be for the campaign that makes the mistake.     

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