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October 31st, 2008

PURE GOLD: STRATEGISTS SHRUM & SCHOEN OPTIMISTIC FOR OBAMA.

by Ed Gold


Bob Shrum.

If veteran political strategists Bob Shrum and Doug Schoen are right, Barack Obama could win in a landslide next Tuesday, and the Democrats in the Senate could close in on a filibuster-proof 60 votes while picking up 20-25 seats in the House.

Shrum has survived a host of campaigns, has been on the losing side for Gore and Kerry, suffered painfully for McGovern, and actually won with Bradley–when he ran for mayor of Los Angeles.

Schoen has had two notable clients recently—Bill Clinton and, currently, Mike Bloomberg—and has earned the honor of “Pollster of the Year.”

For Democrats, this was a good-cop, good-cop combo. The discussion would surely have been more contentious if GOP consultant Ed Rollins had shown up as originally scheduled

Shrum and Schoen, nevertheless, provided a lively 90 minutes before a mostly student audience on Tuesday evening, the event appropriately labeled “One Week and Counting.”

Having a pleasant time as moderator was Rogan Kersh, associate dean for academic affairs at NYU’s Wagner School, which sponsored the event.

Both speakers pointed out that Obama, if elected, would face a bleak future in the short run. Schoen noted that the Obama agenda was “virtually unaffordable,” and that unemployment could jump to nine percent next year.

But he added that he considered Obama “a political genius, an extraordinary political thinker” who, when he had to present a plausible winning agenda, was up to the task. He had harsh words for McCain, whom he accused of “pandering to the worst instincts of the right,” while Shrum insisted that McCain never had a clear strategy and depended on a “collection of tactics,” the worst being the selection of Sarah Palin for vice president. Shrum added that McCain picked Palin to solidify the Republican base, but in doing so alienated independents, moderate Republicans and Democrats.

He had harsh words for McCain, whom he accused of “pandering to the worst instincts of the right,” while Shrum insisted that McCain never had a clear strategy and depended on a “collection of tactics,” the worst being the selection of Sarah Palin for vice president. Shrum added that McCain picked Palin to solidify the Republican base, but in doing so alienated independents, moderate Republicans and Democrats.

He noted, too, that experience versus change has often resulted in “change” being the winner, citing Reagan over Carter, Kennedy over Nixon and Clinton over Bush the 1st.

They offered slightly different views on how the contested states would go, but were in lockstep on the conclusion. Both thought McCain was wasting his time in Pennsylvania, Shrum optimistically anticipating Obama winning in North Carolina, Virginia and Indiana. “The first results will come from Indiana, which is historically a red state. Should Obama win there, it’s all over.”

Schoen felt McCain would hold Indiana and North Carolina, but he added that two many red states would swing blue, giving Obama a solid win.

Could McCain win? Kersh asked.

Schoen said if the polls tightened to a two or three point Obama lead by Election Day, and people became frightened about Democrats having unfettered control of Congress and the presidency, plus the possibility of the Bradley effect on race becoming a factor, McCain could succeed.

Shrum was troubled by the thought that race could be a factor of importance. He worried about the GOP’s “sordid tactics” possibly prevailing, and said if that happened the country “could be ungovernable with a deadlock developing between Congress and the White House. Also, he feared a very angry response from the African-American community.

Both speakers expressed concern about the anger they detected in the Republican base. The Roves and Novacks had rejected Lieberman for vice president , insisting on someone catering to the base, “but pissing off everyone else,” as Schoen put it.

The right-wing, they agreed, really can’t bear losing and they see the nation only in terms of “us versus them.”

Palin, they feel, will strike out on her own, seeking the party endorsement in 2012. It remains to be seen whether conservatives like David Brooks might try to move the party towards the center.

Discussing the Democratic primary race, Shrum said Hillary Clinton could have been the candidate of change but instead became the establishment candidate. Her vote on the war and her unwillingness to admit error sealed her defeat, he said.

There was concern about the transition period and how Obama, if elected, might prevail. An attempt would be made by the Bush people to co-opt Obama on both domestic and foreign policy. Shrum recalled that Hoover had tried that with Roosevelt back in 1932 and that Roosevelt wisely limited his contacts with the outgoing president.

They wondered how a President Obama would get along with Pelosi and Reid in Congress, concluding that Obama would be very diplomatic, would work for bi-partisan action and would hold a strong hand, having beaten the GOP and having created a massive organizational following in the country during almost two years of campaigning.

At the end, they were just a bit nervous. After 2000 and 2004, Shrum said, “Democrats are like battered children.”

But this time,the battered children should take the White House.

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