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Mighty Mac Adrift in Michigan

By Susan Demas

Four years ago, a gaggle of grandmothers emerged from a University of Illinois building, breathlessly chirping about a U.S. Senate forum.

A cerise-scarfed lady spotted a placard for a hopeful and asked if he was The One.

"That's not our guy," she was told. "Our candidate is the one whose name no one can pronounce."

I recall glancing at her "Obama for Senate" button. Good luck, this hard-bitten political reporter thought before hurrying back to the library to finish researching an obscure local history project.

Five months later, I watched Barack Obama unfurl his fabled '04 Democratic National Convention speech in which he deftly defined the "hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too."

That was the first time I realized I'd underestimated Mr. Obama. Then came the Illinois senator's upset win in lily-white Iowa in January, 11 straight victories after Super Tuesday and knockout blow on the last primary night, June 3.

John McCain needs to learn that lesson - stat. The Vietnam POW clearly disdains Obama, a showboating whippersnapper out to steal his maverick mantle from under him. Pay your dues, kid, McCain practically seethes every time he spits out his name.

But there's another dynamic here - he clearly didn't want to face Obama. Lying below McCain's honey-coated praise for Hillary Clinton (and slams on the sexist press) was the stone-cold political calculation that she would shore up the right-wing base in a way he never could and be easier to vanquish.

Which is about right. Obama tops all the polls, even after Hillary bloodied him but good.

So one has to wonder if the Arizona senator was in denial about his inevitable opponent. Because what I want to know is: What was John McCain doing for the four months between when he clinched the GOP nomination and Obama sealed his?

And what's he doing now?

McCain had a tremendous advantage. And as far as I can see, he blew it - especially here in Michigan. It's a dream come true for a candidate to be able to define himself. To have the stage to yourself for months while your rival's teeth are being knocked in daily by a member of his own party is like a nonstop ecstasy trip for politicians.

Instead, McCain puttered around the county here and there and flipped burgers for Mitt Romney and other vice presidential wannabes in Sedona. His less than breakneck stump speed did little to evoke an image of gusto and vigor the 71-year-old needs to convey, especially to combat an oratorical Adonis who hasn't even broken a sweat after 18 straight months of barnstorming.

Since the Jan. 15 Michigan primary, McCain has done a couple of fundraisers and two events here, including a baffling May 7 speech on child pornography at Oakland University. On the list of top 1,000 issues for Michiganders, kiddie porn ranks about 1,263,000th.

The economy fills up slots one through 900 at least, as we've just hit 8.5 percent unemployment, a number we last saw when George W.'s daddy was in the Oval Office.

These are things the crackerjack Mitten State campaign team of Chuck Yob & Son should be telling McCain, but they're too busy hurling nukes at state GOP Chair Saul Anuzis to care. The Yob Doctrine dictates that it doesn't matter if you win or lose elections, but how many of your Republican brethren you can settle scores with by napalming them along the way.

McCain's campaign consists of two generic TV ads, as he seems utterly determined to lose Michigan at any cost. He won't even be back here until mid-July for yet another fundraiser.

In contrast, Obama, who completely ignored us for a year with our botched Democratic primary, has come back a-courtin' with a hundred red roses in hand on three different occasions in the last month.

"I'm so sorry, baby," the current Us Weekly cover boy croons to crowds, savvily hitting every sweet spot in the state from Troy to Grand Rapids. "I know the economy's been so bad. Let me make it up to you with John Edwards, Al Gore and $150 million in research pork."

As for the ground game, Obama is everywhere in the Great Lakes State, with 50 events last weekend from the U.P. to Downriver.

So there's little surprise that Mighty Mac sunk 8 points among independents in Rasmussen Michigan polls over the last month and he's trailing nationally, as well. He's flipped on offshore and arctic drilling and called last week's Supreme Court ruling upholding habeas corpus rights for Guantanamo detainees "one of the worst decisions in the history of this country."

How this crass pandering is supposed to snare Democrats and independents is beyond me.

Perhaps the strategy is to wait for Obama's star to combust over the Rev. Wright or some other ghastly gaffe. Phenoms can't last forever, after all. Slow and steady experience wins the race.

Which was pretty much what Nixon said about Kennedy in '60. And we all know how that turned out.

Susan J. Demas is a political analyst for Michigan Information & Research Service. She can be reached at or

Copyright 2008, Real Clear Politics

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