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Final Obama Opt-out Thought

I just wanted to elaborate briefly on my response to that Matt Dowd item yesterday calling Obama's opt-out decision a mistake. My feeling is basically this: If the electoral landscape were flat, meaning that neither party enjoyed any structural advantages over the other, I'd be somewhat worried about Obama tainting his different-kind-of-politician reputation. It's the kind of minor hypocrisy that, if it were to become part of the narrative of his candidacy, could do some damage under those circumstances.  

But the Democrats have so many fundamental advantages this year that it's hard to see that influencing the outcome. All else being equal, a majority of people are going to vote for Obama even if they think he's a typical pol, because he'll be a typical Democratic pol and the frustration with Republicans is almost unprecedented.

The only thing that stops Obama this year is being painted as "un-American" or unprepared for the job. And, while money won't solve that problem, it will help considerably (particularly against the first accusation).

So opting out helps Obama on the questions that will be central to the race, and hurts him with a consideration that will be peripheral.

P.S. For evidence that voters will make up their minds this way, take a look at the fascinating focus group First Read wrote up this morning:

YORK, PA -- A focus group conducted last night here in a county that Hillary Clinton carried in April showed that her supporters are coming around to Obama. But the group -- 12 likely voters, all white, and all of whom didn't back either Obama or McCain in the primary -- also demonstrated that both candidates have plenty of work to do between now and November. The good news for Obama: Of the seven Clinton supporters, all of whom backed her strongly, five were solidly behind the Illinois senator, one was fiercely opposed (“I don’t trust Obama,” he said), and one was undecided (but noted that Clinton's support of Obama would influence her vote). The bad news: On some questions of character, patriotism, and values (who would you rather carry the American flag at the Olympics, who would you rather carpool with), the focus group overwhelmingly picked McCain. While Jeremiah Wright barely came up and “bitter” didn’t at all, two of the respondents -- the Clinton supporter and a female Bush voter -- had very negative opinions of him. “I don’t trust Osama … Obama. It’s only a letter difference,” said Charles, the Hillary backer. “His middle name is Hussein.” Observed Terry, the female Bush voter: “I don’t feel he’s a true American.” [emphasis added.]

*** Views of Obama: Overall, however, Obama fared pretty well in this focus group, which was striking given that it was all white, that not a single person voted for him in the primary, and that it took place in a region not considered a strength for him. Five said they would vote for him, four backed McCain, and three said they were undecided. Democratic pollster Peter Hart, who conducted the focus group for the Annenberg School at the University of Pennsylvania, said Obama benefited from a room wanting change and to move beyond Bush. What skeptics were looking for, he added, was some “meat on the bone.” The five who said they would vote for him cited his fresh ideas, intelligence, grasp of the issues, and excitement and energy. The four who opposed him -- all Bush voters, save Charles, the Hillary supporter -- stressed his inexperience and their fears of him being commander-in-chief. And of the three who were undecided, one said they wanted to know more about his health-care plans; another wanted to know more about the kind of change he would bring; and the third said she was considering Obama because of change.

--Noam Scheiber