Obama smartly rejects McCain's proposal for ten faux "town hall" style joint appearances:
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama on Friday rejected Republican rival John McCain's proposal for 10 joint town-hall appearances, offering instead to have just one on the July 4 holiday.
Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said he offered to meet McCain in five joint appearances between now and the Nov. 4 election. But only one of those was a town-hall meeting, plus three traditional debates and an in-depth debate on foreign policy.
The McCain campaign said Obama's offer was to hold the single town hall on Independence Day - which likely would have resulted in less attention while Americans are on holiday. McCain told reporters traveling with him in New Jersey that was "a very disappointing response."
McCain had said the more intimate town-hall format, a give-and-take between a candidate and the audience, would allow real interaction with voters and would be more revealing than formal televised debates. Town halls are also McCain's favorite style of campaigning and would allow him to get free media attention alongside the better-funded Obama.
McCain stood to gain quite a bit if Obama either accepted the proposal, or even if Obama has countered with something like five joint "town hall" appearances. Here is what McCain could have gained:
- Free Media: Obama will probably raise something like $80M in June, pushing him well clear of McCain in cash on hand, even when DNC and RNC numbers are figured in. This will allow Obama to have far more paid media, not to mention staff in all 50 states, plus 3,600 "organizing fellows" spread across 17 highly targeted states. Throw in the 200 full-time organizers from the DNC's fifty state strategy, and this will swamp anything that McCain and the RNC can hope to match.
However, if there had been ten joint appearances, plus three more traditional debates, plus the VP debate, plus the conventions, then McCain could have basically cancelled out Obama's fundraising advantage with an enormous amount of free media. Taken together, with the three-day pre-game, post-game, and actual townhall coverage, these fourteen "debates," plus the conventions, would consume about 50 news cycles between now and the middle of October. Considering the Olympics in August will turn attention away from the campaign for two weeks, this would have consumed between half and two-thirds of the campaign news cycles between July 4th and the second week of October. Obama would have been crazy to pass up his huge resource advantages and instead have the focus of the campaign be these McCain suggested "debates."
- Canceling Obama's rally advantage: Obama's oratory skills, plus his ability to attract crowds, dwarf McCain's. if the campaign is focused on a ludicrous number of debates instead, the clear advantage Obama has in this area would also be cancelled out. Instead of the clear contrast in excitement and inspiration that Obama was able to earn on June 3rd, McCain could turn the focus on the campaign into his preferred style of campaigning. This would have been a big advantage to McCain.
- Making McCain look like a leader: Since the whole thing was McCain's idea, if Obama had simply gone along with it, this jam packed debate schedule would have made McCain look like a leader with ideas, and Obama an inexperienced follower. So, it would have reinforced McCain's central campaign message, which would have been a large negative.
- McCain wanted Obama to reject at least some of the ten debates: McCain started with an absurd number of debates--10 townhalls plus the three other debates--so that there was no way Obama would accept all of them. As such, even if McCain got maybe half, like seven or eight, he would still get all of the above advantages plus make it look like Obama was still scared to debate him. As such, the only smart response was to come back with a low number, as the Obama campaign just did.
The Obama campaign did the right thing here. While I would like to see more than three debates myself, considering how repetitive the 20+ nomination campaign debates were, 14 would also be too high. Hopefully, they will settle on a number around five or six, plus the VP debate. If there were six debates, they could be divided as follows:
- Iraq, Afghanistan, and general military policy
- Other foreign policy, including trade, energy, global warming and gas prices
- Education, Health Care and Social Security
- Civil rights, reproductive rights, religion
- Ethics, lobbying, transparency, and governmental accountability
- Taxes, budget, jobs and infrastructure
Or something like that. It would be fun to see more debates, and more detail. However, ten town halls plus three debates is absurd. Something in the middle, like six plus the VP debate, makes a lot more sense.