Down-ballot effects of presidential campaign strategies

McCain’s campaign strategy will hurt down-ballot Republicans, while Obama’s will help Democrats.

The McCain campaign’s stated strategy of negative attacks on Obama’s political and personal character is now so widely reported that I don’t feel the need to provide links. While a few of the attacks are based on tired Republican attacks on Democrats as big-government tax-and-spenders, so much of the attack (like the “celebrity” ad earlier, and now the Ayers fraternization charge) is so specific to Obama that it will have little or no carryover to Democrats running for other offices. Even the tired anti-tax and cultural attacks are unlikely to have much purchase with voters who are genuinely worried about a depression (see note below), unless somehow refreshed and made specific. Otherwise they just sound like 1984.

By contrast, Obama’s campaign has been more positive, clearly outlining an alternative approach compared to the Bush administration. When he focuses on McCain, Obama’s most negative line of attack on McCain ties him to Bush and makes clear that he has no ideas to solve the economic crisis, because his ideology is to let corporations do whatever they want, and his practice has been to meddle on behalf of deep pocket special interests. While the Keating 5 episode is old, it fits this narrative perfectly. This attack can be applied directly to almost every Republican office seeker, and Obama’s positive themes, as enunciated in Denver, can be widely adopted by Democrats. Even if McCain somehow succeeds with his “Maverick” message, not many Republicans can plausibly use this appeal. Every time McCain and Palin assert the virtue of going against Republican leaders they make it harder for other Republicans to get elected.

So McCain’s campaign will hurt Republicans, and Obama’s will help Democrats.

Note: As Michael O’Hare has already mentioned in these pages, CNN has a new poll that reminds respondents that the Great Depression was characterized by “25% unemployment, widespread bank failures, and millions of Americans homeless and unable to feed their families.” 21% said that a depression is “very likely” and another 38% said it is “somewhat likely.” Only 13% said it is “not likely at all.”