No post-convention bounce for the Democrats

After a successful convention in Denver, Sens. Barack Obama and Joe Biden watched their poll numbers stay the same. Meantime, a weird weekend for news and weather clouds the prospects for Republicans at their convention this week.
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After a successful convention in Denver, Sens. Barack Obama and Joe Biden watched their poll numbers stay the same. Meantime, a weird weekend for news and weather clouds the prospects for Republicans at their convention this week.

The Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., resumes its regular programming today now that Hurricane Gustav has run its course. Republicans generally shut down their convention yesterday, Sept. 1, except for procedural matters and a joint appeal by first lady Laura Bush and would-be first lady Cindy McCain for relief funds for Gustav's victims.

Sen. Barack Obama and his Democratic running mate, Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, came out of their party's Denver convention Thursday night, Aug. 29, with much momentum. It was blunted the following day by Arizona Sen. John McCain's surprise selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate — which dominated media coverage for 24 hours — and then on the weekend by Gustav.

There are some strange things taking place in this in-between period:

  • Obama-Biden should have gained a generous "bounce" in national polls after their highly successful Denver convention. But they did not. First data made it apper they might gain 10 percentage points or more on McCain-Palin. Normally, that bounce would have lasted until the end of the Repubican convention, a week later, with numbers settling out afterward.

    But by Monday, major national polls had Obama-Biden leading McCain-Palin by no more than 4 percentage points; one had them dead even. Polls showed Biden contributing zero to Obama's poll standing and Palin in 48 hours giving McCain a two-point upward bump.

  • Voters seemed generally to agree with Republicans' decision to pare back their convention to the bare essentials for the first couple days. The response to Gustav by President Bush, FEMA, and the five Republican governors of Gulf Coast states appeared to be prompt and efficient — in contrast to the response to Katrina three years ago. So Republicans seemed to benefit from the storm while Obama and Biden sunk below visiblity with their own campaigning.

    Republicans had been grappling with "the Bush-Cheney problem." That is, how would President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney affect public opinion during their scheduled Monday appearances in St. Paul? The storm took Bush to the southeast and both of them off the program. Bush has announced he will not seek a makeup date for his rained-out Monday appearance.

    Thus Bush will be the first president since Lyndon Johnson in 1968, not seeking reelection and retreating during the convention to his Texas ranch, to be absent from his party's national convention.

  • It was disclosed Monday that Palin's 17-year-old daughter is five months pregnant. She will have the baby and marry her boyfriend. The pregnancy apparently was well known in Alaska. Meanwhile, probers discovered that Palin's husband had a DWI violation some 24 years ago. Neither revelation is likely to affect the campaign one iota. Obama, following disclosure of Palin's daughter's pregnancy, immediately called for the issue to be off-limits.

We shall see what "bounce" the GOP ticket gains after McCain's and Palin's convention speeches Wednesday and Thursday nights. Speculation about Palin has only heightened during this in-between storm period. Initial reaction to her selection was enthusiastic among religious conservatives. GOP fundraising boomed. Male voters, more than female, expressed strong support for her. I suspect this was due mainly to her tough-minded, independent posture in Alaska and her blue-collar background. Gender and other demographic data will begin to mean something only after the convention ends and voters have taken greater measure of Palin.

All normal factors, including a strong tide toward change, apprehension about the economy, dissatisfaction with the Iraq intervention, and Democratic strength in congressional races — not to mention the successful Democratic convention in Denver — should have provided Obama-Biden a double-digit lead by now. Obama-Biden have not made big mistakes which would cause them to be running even with McCain-Palin. McCain-Palin have done nothing remarkable to explain their parity with Obama-Biden — except for McCain's selection of Palin, which at most accounts for a small upward GOP blip.

What is going on here? Why are Obama-Biden running less strongly than they should? Why are McCain-Palin hanging in there? I do not accept the argument that beneath-the-surface racism is at work or that Sen. Hillary Clinton supporters are on-the-fence or moving to McCain.

The only argument that seems convincing is that voters are just plain hanging back because they do not yet have a full sense of the candidates. It may take one or more candidate debates before things begin to clarify. I'll write again after Wednesday night's convention session with an update.

Tribute to Ed Guthman

Ed Guthman, a Seattleite, died Sunday night in Los Angeles at 89. After World War II service, he was a reporter for many years for The Seattle Times, where he won a Pultizer prize for exposing McCarthyism directed against University of Washington professor Melvin Rader.

As an undergraduate, I took a course from Rader precisely because of Guthman's defense of him and, as a young Seattle Times reporter, found Guthman, a staff star, offering his friendship to me. Later, Guthman would become Robert Kennedy's press secretary, editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, and national editor of the Los Angeles Times. I encountered him frequently over the years in all those roles. His e-mails left no doubt where he stood on public issues. He was a man of integrity, professionally accomplished, personally modest, always engaged, and one of our city's most distinguished natives.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Ted Van Dyk

Ted Van Dyk

Ted Van Dyk has been active in national policy and politics since 1961, serving in the White House and State Department and as policy director of several Democratic presidential campaigns. He is author of Heroes, Hacks and Fools and numerous essays in national publications. You can reach him in care of