Opinion Columns & Blogs

Obama gains crucial edge with youth vote

George Bush is a lame duck president, but GOP historians may one day describe him as the albatross around John McCain's neck. Clearly, it's too early to write off a warhorse, but the taint of this administration will be difficult for McCain to remove.

Sen. McCain has been playing the experience card, which many see as Obama's Achilles heel, but, ironically, the more he pounds his opponent on experience, the louder he beats Obama's favorite drum.

With good reason, the freshman senator from Illinois chose the word "change." Although Washington insiders boast about their length of service and the strength of their connections, to many Americans -- especially younger ones -- that's no reason to vote for a candidate.

The last sitting member of Congress to be elected president was John F. Kennedy. Others, including Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, had served in Congress earlier in their careers; nevertheless, years spent on Capitol Hill do not guarantee a campaign will leave the starting gate. Ask Joe Biden.

Yes, Obama is an incumbent legislator, but being a junior senator means he can dodge blame for most of what's turned sour in Washington in recent years. In fact, while he opposed the invasion of Iraq, he hadn't yet been elected to the Senate when the crucial vote was cast to give Bush the blessing he sought to go to war.

McCain can't distance himself from continuing bad news on Bush's record. Hardly a week goes by without another scandal emerging about mishandling of the Iraqi occupation, a former insider disclosing how Bush's political agenda trumped policy or a judge rejecting the White House's interpretation of federal law. Few presidents have ranked lower in opinion polls -- and deservedly so.

McCain is hoping that the war in Iraq will overshadow an increasingly dicey economy, but the first President Bush and Jimmy Carter could tell him what happens to hopefuls dealt a tanking economy. As Bill Clinton said, "It's the economy, Stupid."

McCain, a bona fide hero of the Vietnam War, portrays Democrats as sniveling cowards for wanting to get troops out of Iraq, but many Americans are increasingly skeptical that the "war on terror" will have a good end.

News that the Bush administration desperately is trying to negotiate a status of forces agreement that would lock the U.S. military into permanent occupation of Iraq likely will play to Obama's favor. Even if Americans were willing to mortgage their grandchildren's future in order to "preserve freedom" for Iraqis, long-term foreign entanglements are anathema to most of us. Also, many in Iraq, including members of that nation's parliament, denounce our continued presence there. Who can accept that their son or daughter is at risk of dying for the sake of ingrates?

For all of that, neither the war, the economy nor global warming will decide this election. Despite what spin masters claim about their candidate's stand on "issues," people vote more with their heart than with their head.

McCain and Obama can release white papers on everything from health care to the manned space program, but who expects campaign promises to be kept? Voters understand that the president can't pass laws but must defer to an often recalcitrant Congress. Also, the average citizen doesn't grasp the differences between the candidates' platforms, and won't take the trouble to learn.

In recent history, nominees for the two major parties could count on getting support from roughly 45 percent of the electorate just by having their name on the ballot. That means the balance will be tipped by the self-described "independents" or "undecideds."

Forget talk about race or gender; age is the most serious challenge for McCain. Over the last several elections, the turnout among citizens under 30 has increased two to three times faster than the overall average, a trend that may be accelerating.

When Barack and Michelle Obama take the stage at the Democratic National Convention, comparisons will be invoked with John and Jackie Kennedy.

Standing next to his own lovely wife, Cindy, at the GOP convention, John McCain will look like Spencer Tracy in "Father of the Bride," wondering why he got stuck with the bill.