One consequence of a cult of personality candidacy is that the candidate becomes the reigning issue — for good and bad. And over the past eight weeks or so, the Democratic race turned from a contest between Clinton and Obama to an up or down vote on Barack Obama. Hillary Clinton won a huge number of votes, and may well end up the winner of the popular vote even as she loses the race. But it’s hard to deny that she won most of those because of voter doubts about Obama, rather than because of any personal popularity or strong support for her. The notion that Hillary Clinton is the blue collar everyman is of course absurd. But Barack Obama has come to be understood as the candidate of liberal cultural elitism, and those Democrats that didn’t appreciate that voted for Hillary.
Obama also decided this spring to really stop running against Hillary and just run against McCain, or against no one in particular, and the press played along, so that the campaign really took on the form of an up or down vote on him. That vote — that is, this final phase of the campaign in which the question was really what you thought about Obama — didn’t go all that well for him, particularly when you consider which states will be crucial in November. It turns out a very significant swath of even Democratic voters, and especially blue-collar parents, have serious worries about Obama. John McCain is well positioned to capitalize on these concerns if he finds ways to make clear that he understands them and has something to offer these voters; and especially if, as frankly seems likely, the general election will also turn into more or less an up or down vote on Obama.