It is a question too early to answer. Between now and Election Day on 4th of November, a lot of hitherto unknown issues are bound to come into play. Also, the issues at play already such as the Iraq War and the state of the economy will come under much more serious scrutiny of the media and the electorate. Together with these issues, the candidates will also face the same soul searching attention of voters. After eight years of George Bush who has not just turned the world upside down but has also messed up his own country in a manner no US President has, the coming US Presidential election will be the most important ever for the Americans.
During the primaries, Obama came from the back and captured not just the imagination of his own party but the nation in beating the front-runner Hillary Clinton with the promise of change. He was a breath of fresh air for a suffocating nation. He caught the attention of voters nationwide earlier with his keynote address at the Democratic Party convention in 2004. Then as he toured the country, speaking on behalf of Democratic Party candidates in the 2006 congressional elections that the party won handsomely, the nation saw him and was impressed. His two biographies, Audacity of Hope and Dreams from My Father, both best sellers, have helped him touch base round the country. Thus when he became the presumptive candidate against Senator McCain, opinion polls nationwide gave him a 15 % lead by early June; his performance before the media and his closeness to a discredited Bush administration helped Obama.
That double-digit gap has now vanished. A CNN poll this week put both candidates tied at 47%. A CNN poll a month ago had McCain trailing Obama by 7% margin. McCain who was an underdog in his own party's nomination race and then underdog to Obama when both were presumptive candidates is now in the race with a bang. It would therefore be useful to look into the reasons why Obama lost his big lead. Obama came into the scene with his charm; his opposition to the Iraq war and his message of change that rekindled in many hopes that Kennedy had brought to a majority of Americans in the 1960 elections who were frustrated with 8 years of Eisenhower when communism made great strides worldwide. In fact, it was the Iraq war that many had predicted would make or break either of the candidates in getting voters' approval. Obama got the early lead, despite being the first ever black to dream of becoming the US President, because, with his charm and charisma, he consistently opposed the Iraq war, and has made no flip flop on the issue.
By June, an “Obamamania” had gripped USA. A new generation of first time US voters in millions of all races were flocking wherever Obama spoke, encouraging many to believe that the White House was within his reach. Although McCain has very strong credentials as a war veteran who had spent 5 years as a POW in Vietnam and excellent foreign affairs credentials being credited for normalization of US's relations with Vietnam, his age and his appearances before the media where he has fumbled many times, brought many detractors, some even suggesting his mental competence. In one of his famous faux pas before the media, he placed Iraq on the borders of Afghanistan.
The sharp differences remain. Yet Obama's lead is falling for a variety of reasons. Millions of voters who were hitherto watching the candidates without commenting are now coming into the equation as the election enters the post-convention period. They are looking at the issues more than the candidates. Of these issues, Iraq war is now playing out in a much different manner. In the last few months, the violence in Iraq has decreased dramatically; so has the number of US soldiers getting killed there. Americans, despite acknowledging that the war was a mistake are less concerned with it now as they were a few months back. They feel that US involvement there will end anyway, no matter who the President becomes because an agreement has been reached this week between Iraq and USA to pull out all troops by 2011. Ironically, many now feel that McCain, with his experience in foreign affairs and his background as a war veteran, may be better placed to end US involvement in Iraq.
Thus Iraq war trump card for the Democrats has lost a lot of its value, making the poor health of the economy, healthcare, the central issues for the voters. The rising gas price from US$ 1 plus a gallon at the beginning of Bush's tenure to over US$ 4 a gallon at present, has caused an economic upheaval in the lives of all Americans in a way never before in history, leaving no corner of the economy unaffected. People are losing their jobs, their houses and indeed their hopes for their future. The average American is now aware that gas price has risen so dramatically because no major oil fields have been discovered worldwide, none in the USA where prospect of discovering oil in the Gulf of Mexico is tremendous. Unfortunately, the Democrats oppose offshore drilling on environmental grounds led by Al Gore and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi that Obama supported during the primaries. The Republicans are blaming the Democrats for rise of gas prices by telling Americans that if the Democrats withdrew their opposition to offshore drilling, gas prices would fall significantly. That argument is sinking with the voters against Obama.
In his keynote speech at the Democrats' Convention in 2004, Obama had said that there is no conservative America; no liberal America but a United States of America. Americans cheered that speech as it was delivered with oratory that was charismatic. But that oratory and charisma shelved a fundamental truth about the American society; that America is primarily a conservative country where liberal ideas are not popular. The Republicans represent that conservative heart of USA, which is not all for there are many conservatives also among the Democrats. Thus sheer arithmetic works in favour of the Republicans, which is why they won six of the last nine US Presidential elections. Further, the Republicans are up against an inexperienced black candidate who has a Muslim middle name. Added to these, Hillary supporters (8 million plus voted for her in the primaries that was more than Obama's vote tally) have threatened to work against Obama after she was by-passed for Biden, a possibility that the McCain camp is already fully exploiting in their ad campaign.
Obama should have chosen Hillary to bring the party together when his ratings are falling. He has however chosen Biden to overcome his weakness in foreign affairs where Biden is the expert and currently Chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Biden is also expected to overcome voters' concern that Obama is inexperienced in the way federal government works. But Biden has his own problems, having withdrawn from the 1988 Presidential race on charges of plagiarism as a law student and then as a politician when he lifted extracts out of a speech of the British Labour Leader Neil Kennock in 1987. The Republicans are sure to exploit the weaknesses to their fullest. Earlier, Obama visited Israel to answer criticism that he is weak in foreign affairs. There he promised the Israelis everything and to the Palestinians very little. Just before his tenure ended in 2000, Clinton had offered to the Palestinians East Jerusalem as capital of the state of Palestine. Obama's promise of the entire Jerusalem to Israel has disappointed the Muslim world, which believes that the failure of resolving the just rights of the Palestinians will not set to rest the current tensions between the West and the Islamic world.
All these facts taken together suggest that a predominantly conservative USA, despite all Obama's charm and brilliance, is viewed as a liberal though he is trying his best to stress upon his conservative Christian upbringing (in his grandparents' home) where also his onetime pastor Reverend Jeremiah Wright has done incredible damage. Thus his liberal beliefs, his Muslim middle name, his Afro-American background and his inexperience may yet be his greatest obstacles and he has to convince the Americans on each of these before they give him a nod for the White House. Charm, oratory and charisma may not take him. Biden's choice as his running mate may improve his ratings with those who view foreign affairs as an important issue. Unfortunately most Americans do not and thus Hillary and not Biden may have been a better choice.