Candidates head down stretch

Published 3:33 pm Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The balloons are all popped. The speeches over. Now it’s the long, hard dash to the presidential finish line — aka the first Tuesday of November.

Political conventions are part legality and part circus that usually give candidates a little bounce in the polls for the first week or so after the gavel comes down.

But how did John McCain and Barack Obama really fare after the extravaganza of these two back-to-back political events? The Ironton Tribune’s political commentators from Ohio University now weigh in.

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“I think Obama made a strategic error in his acceptance speech,” Dr. Ken Heineman, an OU professor of history, said. “This was his first opportunity to speak to millions of Americans, to introduce himself. He spent his time attacking McCain and being very negative. He diminished himself and has continued to diminish himself by attacking (Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah) Palin.”

It’s an unwritten political rule for presidential nominees to be above the fray and use those going for the second spot as “attack dog,” Heineman said.

“(The party) is collapsing on itself,” he said. “(Obama) would launch an attack on McCain. Then one of McCain’s surrogates would respond. (Obama) would argue with a McCain supporter. He has put himself in a position where he is not equal, not of the same stature as McCain.”

Heineman’s colleague Dr. Michael McTeague sees the candidates switching from convention to election mode where now they will focus on message.

“The strategy has to be a very clear set of plans, plans with some meat on it, not just generalities. Be more specific,” McTeague said.

And what about those two “attack dogs?” Were they the choices that can bring in the votes?

Heineman said he was surprised to discover Sen. Joe Biden is “an old friend of the Daley Machine,” he said. “He goes back with Richard Daley for 25 years. I would have to guess it is an attempt by Daley to regain control of the machine.”

He sees the Democratic party spilt into two camps: The old time Democrats, a la Daley, and the academics such as college professors, students and followers of Web sites like

“The Daley machine offers political sense and organizational skills,” Heineman said. “The academics: volunteers, enthusiasm and money. The problem is the academics tend to be self-destructive. They tend not to be those who believe in compromise. They’re not pragmatic. They don’t tend to have the discipline to watch what they are saying. That side of the party has taken over the Obama campaign.”

The unknown in the race is the still wild card Sarah Palin, McCain’s pick for the second spot.

“You have to be a real devout political junkie to know about her,” he said.

However, Heineman believes she made an impressive first appearance when she spoke to the convention, as did her possible future boss.

“I think McCain has been underestimated in terms of his ability to lead,” he said. “You do not get through the Hanoi Hilton without having some mental discipline. McCain is not a great speaker, but when he had his moment (at the convention) you could hear a pin drop.”

On the other hand McTeague contends neither presidential candidate fluffed when it was his special moment to capture the American imagination.

“Nobody misspoke or made any tragic errors,” he said. “They energized their followers.”