Dan Payne, a political commentator for the Boston Globe and WBUR radio, spoke Tuesday night at a Democrats of Newton event about the epic presidential campaign. Payne discussed both how Barack Obama won the election, and also how John McCain let it slip away.
Payne began the evening by discussing how the candidates won their primaries. He said that for Obama it was about successfully setting himself up as the anti-war candidate and focusing on caucuses
“When Hillary voted yes for Bush to go to war, it opened the doors for an anti-war candidate,” Payne said indicating that Obama filled that role. “[And Obama’s campaign] realized that caucuses counted. Caucuses were like field goals. You might only get a few points, but it could be enough to win.”
On the other hand, Payne said McCain won the primary by just outlasting his opponents.
“McCain won by attrition,” he said. “He was the last Indian standing. Romney changed his mind so many times, and became the least liked candidate. Giuliani had no clue how to run a campaign. Thompson didn’t want to work before noon or after 3 pm. He wanted to sit on his porch and have his sippin’ whiskey. And Huckabee was too new, and was pigeon-holed as the evangelical candidate.”
Payne said that Obama’s biggest advantage over McCain in the general election was that he did not have to alter his message.
“Change became the mantra of the Obama campaign,” Payne said. “I’ve worked in lots of campaigns and tried to use change as a device. It’s hard to make it stick. The fact that Obama was able to stick with it and freshen it up is tribute to candidate himself.”
While Obama managed to keep his message and look presidential throughout the campaign, Payne said that McCain made three crucial mistakes: sticking to the federal public financing limit, nominating Sarah Palin as his vice president, and suspending his campaign during the economic crisis.
Payne said that by accepting public financing McCain put himself at an almost insurmountable financial disadvantage, that by nominating Palin he appeared reckless, and that by going to Washington to try and “fix” the crisis he appeared foolish.
In the end, Payne said that Obama really won more than McCain lost the election.
“Obama won because he was Obama,” Payne said. “People believed in him. They believed he was going to take charge of a system that was really out of control.”
-- Ben Terris