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Obama VS McCain: 7 Things To Watch

As Barack Obama and John McCain go barreling neck-and-neck into the homestretch, advisers for both men know one thing for certain: Nothing is.

More so than any presidential race in recent history, this one may be determined by forces beyond the control of either candidate.

How far will housing values fall? How far will oil prices rise? Will violence in Iraq erase the gains of the surge? Will Israel attack Iran? Will one of the Big Three automakers go bankrupt? Which neighbor will Russia attack next? Which bank will fail? Will terrorists strike the United States again?

It’s impossible to predict much about this race, but here are seven things to watch as the unknowns become knowns:

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1. Will Obama profit from pain?

Voters say the economy is their number one concern — and in nearly every poll Barack Obama enjoys a substantial, but not commanding, 10- to 15-point advantage on economic issues.

He’s doing better than John Kerry or Al Gore did on the economy, he fares best in battleground states. A Democracy Corps survey taken during the GOP convention gave Obama an 11-point edge on the economy nationwide but a 15-point lead in swing states including Ohio, Nevada, Florida and Virginia.

But Obama hasn’t been able to translate that advantage into big leads over McCain in the states hit hardest by the economic downtown. In fact, the race has tightened in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and hard-hit Michigan — despite McCain’s support of unpopular free trade agreements, his less-than enthusiastic support of the housing bailout, his own profession of ignorance on economic matters and ample connections to Big Oil.

Race and class issues are probably sapping Obama’s support. But he’s also been hurt by nagging questions about his leadership experience as the GOP tries to shift the election from a referendum on Republican economic policies to a test of whether Obama is up to the job of president.

“The two immoveable objects in this campaign are that Bush takes the blame for the economy and that the economy favors the Democrats,” says Michael Dimock, associate director of the Pew Research Center. “But it’s now coming down to the question of Obama’s leadership and capability . . . . McCain doesn’t have to win on the economy, just mitigate its impact, and reframe the issue as one about leadership.”

Added a Democratic pollster: “Don’t look at the unemployment rate. The key metric is the percentage of voters who think Obama is ready to lead. So far, that’s been around 50 to 58 percent. If that number stabilizes in the mid-50s, he’ll win.”

Then there’s the “bitter” pill. The Illinois senator spent his teen years on Food Stamps, but he’s had real trouble making white blue-collar Democrats believe that he feels their pain. And Republicans aren’t letting voters forget his claim that working-class voters are so “bitter” they cling to God and guns.

2. Has Palin Peaked?

Sarah Palin’s addition to the ticket probably exceeded her running mate’s wildest expectations: McCain has turned an eight-point deficit in the Gallup daily tracking poll into a three-point lead.

But McCain’s campaign has so far been able to protect Palin from any downside. Palin appeared before adoring crowds in the lower 48 last week, but she did so with the help of TelePrompters and under the protection of a journalist no-fly zone. On Sunday, the McCain campaign – facing increasing pressure — announced that Palin would have a sit-down with ABC’s Charlie Gibson.

How will the Alaska governor hold up under a grilling about the future of NATO, the mortgage securitization crisis or Troopergate? Joe Lieberman is reportedly giving her a rushed tutorial on foreign policy, but the potential for embarrassment remains significant despite Palin’s poise, sense of humor and innate smarts.

Some GOP analysts fret that her popularity has nowhere to go but down, as moderate women become more familiar with her staunch anti-abortion stance. And some are concerned that the conservative evangelicals who make up the party’s base — so jazzed by Palin’s selection — could sink back into a funk when they remember that Palin was just an appetizer while McCain remains the main course.

3. Can Joe Biden avoid the curse of Rick Lazio?

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Palin’s biggest test comes on Oct. 2 in St. Louis, when she faces Joe Biden in what is certain to be the most eagerly anticipated and probably the most-viewed veep debate ever.

Biden hopes to portray the Alaska governor as a neo-Dan Quayle, an out-of-depth amateur unfit to serve as president. But perils abound for the verbose, occasionally overbearing Biden, who must negotiate a gender minefield Rick Lazio blundered into during his disastrous debate against Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2000.

“I’d love to be a fly on the wall in Joe Biden’s dressing room that night,” says Michael Franc of the conservative Heritage Foundation. “They are really going to coach him to restrain himself.”

4. The presidential candidates debate, too.

Until McCain picked Palin, the trio of presidential debates — scheduled for Sept. 26 at Ole Miss, Oct. 7 in Nashville and Oct. 15 in Long Island – seemed likely to the defining moments in the fall campaign. They still are.

“The margins are so tight and voters have so many questions about both guys. The potential for a major, game-changing slip-up is huge,” says Democratic consultant Jefrey Pollack.

Adds former Clinton pollster Geoff Garin: “The debates are the story this year… Voters need to take [the candidates’] temperature.”

Neither candidate is exactly a master of the form. McCain does best when he’s cracking collegial jokes, but he’s prone to missteps and shows unattractive flashes of anger from time to time. Obama is a polished performer but sometimes comes across as condescending or professorial. He makes his own share of mistakes, including the comment — during the recent Saddleback Forum — that a question about when life begins was above his “pay grade.” Over the weekend, Obama said his response to the question had been too flip, and that what he really meant was that he doesn’t “presume to be able to answer these kinds of theological questions.”

5. Will Hillary really help?

Obama needs Hillary Clinton on the trail – less to offset Palin than to deliver working-class whites who became her base during the primaries.

Exactly how much she’ll be used is up in the air. Obama’s people have presented Clinton with a list of places and dates. She’s amenable – under two conditions. First, she refuses to be a “Sarah Palin attack dog,” according to a person close to her. Second, she wants Obama campaign events to coincide with fundraisers to retire her $20 million-plus debt.

And what role will Bill Clinton play?

6. Wright back at you.

Obama complains that he didn’t much in the way of economic solutions at the Republican Convention. There’s something else he didn’t hear much: the name of Reg. Jeremiah Wright.

That won’t last.

It’s possible that McCain himself will attack Obama over his longtime relationship with the firebrand former preacher, but it’s far more likely that independent groups will run ads and barrage white, working-class voters with Wright-Obama emails during the homestretch.

And those same groups won’t be shy about dwelling on Obama’s more tenuous link to former Weather Underground radical Bill Ayers.

7. Will Mount McCain erupt?

When Democratic operatives were gaming out a race against McCain earlier this year, one thing seemed certain to work in their favor: At some point, McCain would blow a gasket and undo months of political anger management.

A lot of Democrats still think it will happen, citing high-profile McCain blow-ups like his May 2007 tussle with Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn and noting that McCain seems to get more irascible when he’s fatigued.

“The anger issue raises questions about his age – and when you get right down to it, that’s Obama’s greatest weapon against him,” said a Democratic consultant.

Media Attacks on Bristol Palin

Since last Friday, there have been rumors circulating around the leftard blogosphere, and in particular at the Daily POS (which is living up to its name), about Sarah Palin and her youngest child Trig. The Kossack rumor mill has been attacking the Alaskan Governor’s daughter in their questioning of the validity of the birth of Palin’s 5th child. The rumor mongers over at the POS have been claiming “proof” that Palin didn’t give birth to Trig, rather that Bristol, the Palin’s 17 year old daughter, had. And to protect Bristol, Gov. Palin claimed that the child was hers.

Now their “proof” is a picture of the Palin family where Bristol looks as if she may have a “baby bump” when in actuality the picture is from 2006. If that picture is proof that Bristol was preggers with Trig, then that was the longest pregnancy known to man.

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Time for some facts campers…

Trig has Downs Syndrome (Trisomy 21) which has been known to occur at a higher rate when the mothers are over the age of 40. Gov. Palin is 44. So that jives.

Today Gov. Palin announced that Bristol is 5 months pregnant. If this is true, and there is no reason why they would lie about this tidbit of information, then Bristol became pregnant a month BEFORE Trig was born. Can we say – rumor quashed!

With today’s announcement, the big question has been did McCain know about Bristol’s pregnancy before choosing Palin? That question has too been answered.

Senior McCain campaign officials said McCain knew of the daughter’s pregnancy when he selected Palin last week as his vice presidential running mate, deciding that it did not disqualify the 44-year-old governor in any way.

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“The despicable rumors that have been spread by liberal blogs, some even with Barack Obama’s name in them, is a real anchor around the Democratic ticket, pulling them down in the mud in a way that certainly juxtaposes themselves against their ‘campaign of change,’” a senior aide said. SOURCE

In other words, the left has nothing to go after Gov. Palin about, therefore have nothing to go after McCain about, so they have to make up vicious rumors attacking an innocent 17 year old girl and drag her into the political mud because it gives them their jollies. The Clintons demanded that the media leave Chelsea alone and they did. Even after they paraded her out on stage to make speeches about her mother – the press wasn’t permitted to ask her questions. I think it only right that the same courtesy be afforded to Bristol Palin.

That said, what of today’s announcement?

Bristol’s decision to have and keep her baby is the admirable thing to do. Making a decision in line with her family’s stance of life would be expected. The only choice one has at this point is whether to keep the child or offer it up for adoption by another family. Bristol chose to keep her baby. It is one that she must have come to after a long conversation with her mother and father. Her decision to marry the baby’s father says a lot about him as well. He isn’t shirking his responsibilities in a day when men seem to think that it is acceptable to spread their seed throughout the world without consequence.

So now can we put this tabloid trash behind us and focus on what is important to this nation? Bristol’s pregnancy is a fact of life that is faced by millions of Americans each year. Dealt with.

UPDATE 9/1/08 1617 EDT:

From the Politico –

“I have said before and I will repeat again: People’s families are off limits,” Obama said. “And people’s children are especially off-limits. This shouldn’t be part of our politics. It has no relevance to Gov. Palin’s performance as a governor or her potential performance as a vice president. So I would strongly urge people to back off these kinds of stories. You know my mother had me when she was 18 and how a family deals with issues and teenage children, that shouldn’t be a topic of our politics.”

On charges that his campaign has stoked the story via liberal blogs:

“I am offended by that statement. There is no evidence at all that any of this involved us,” he said. “Our people were not involved in any way in this, and they will not be. And if I thought there was somebody in my campaign who was involved in something like that, they would be fired.”

It’s about freakin’ time the Obamassiah chimed in.