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Experts: Tough road for McCain

ASPEN ” George Bush could be as big a hurdle to John McCain’s presidential aspirations this year as he was in 2000, two political experts speaking at the Aspen Ideas Festival said Wednesday.

The unpopular Bush could make it tough for McCain and other Republicans to attract votes from disgruntled voters in November, Stuart Rothenberg and Ron Brownstein told an audience of about 50 political junkies.

“The environment for the Republicans is horrendous,” said Rothenberg, editor and publisher of the Rothenberg Political Report, a renowned non-partisan newsletter. “The McCain brand is in good shape. The Republican brand stinks.”

Rothenberg and Brownstein were featured in a session called, “The Prognosticator’s View: What is Going To Happen in November?”

Brownstein agreed with the view that McCain, the likely Republican presidential nominee, faces a tougher time in the race than Barack Obama, the likely Democratic nominee.

About 65 percent of the U.S. public disapproves of Bush’s performance, Brownstein said. And there are few examples in U.S. history where the party of such an unpopular sitting president wins the next presidential election.

“Disapprovers” simply don’t see voting for that party as a way to change direction, said Brownstein, the political director of Atlantic Media Co. and a former national political correspondent for the Los Angles Times. Exit polls show that only about 10 percent of voters who disapprove of a president’s performance will vote for that party in the next presidential election, Brownstein said. McCain needs about 30 percent of the voters who disapprove of Bush to win the election, according to the analyst.

“He is starting in a very deep hole,” Brownstein said.

However, both pundits said McCain has a chance in the race despite the challenges. Most recent polls show him trailing Obama by only a few points.

McCain’s best chance for victory is to distance himself from the president by saying, “I’m not Bush’s third term,” Brownstein said. Obama will try to exploit the ties to the president.

McCain also has the stumbling economy and opposition to the Iraq war working against him. Both political analysts marveled at Obama’s ability to mobilize volunteers and raise funds.

“In this environment, if the Democrats don’t win, they’re going to need years of therapy,” said Brownstein.

Obama’s biggest challenge is getting white voters with less than a college degree to vote for him. Democrats have a history in recent elections of alienating whites with lower levels of education. Obama doesn’t have to win the group, he just cannot lose it as badly as Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry did in 2004, said Brownstein.

Ohio will be “ground zero” in the test to see if Obama can attract votes from white women without a college education. Those voters flocked to Bush over security issues in 2004, then were solidly in the camp of Hillary Clinton in this year’s Democratic primary.

Ohio is so important in the presidential race that Obama might have to consider enlisting Clinton as his vice president to earn a better shot at winning the state.

“If she could win Ohio, that would be the best argument for putting her on the ticket,” Brownstein said.

He also identified Colorado as a vital state in the race because it is one that the Democrats can swing to their favor.

Rothenberg pegged Ohio and Michigan as the keys for McCain. It will be difficult for him to win the presidency without those states, he said.

Wednesday was day three at the Aspen Ideas Festival. It continues into Sunday.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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