If George W. Bush is the kind of person folks might like to have a beer with, John McCain is the guy you pray you don't get seated next to at a dinner party.
Thanks to McCain's performance in the past two debates, the word "snarky" has entered my vocabulary. Cranky, irascible, petulant, and angry are also getting a workout. Have you noticed that whenever McCain describes a disagreement he has with someone -- like when he talked about Joe Biden during the debate -- the other person is always "wrong"? He's every woman's nightmare of an arrogant, out-of-touch, patronizing man.
EMILY"s List has worked a lot with swing women voters over the years, and one thing we've learned is that they are very cynical about politics and politicians. They very much want help with the challenges facing them and their families, and they feel like most politicians don't understand or want to lift a finger to help them out. They watch the nastiness of modern campaigns and come away even more convinced that politicians would rather play political games than try to solve America's problems.
John McCain did nothing to draw them in at this last debate. Any hope he had of showing women that he understands their lives went up in smoke when he called concerns about protecting a woman's health "extreme" and dismissed the notion of equal pay for women as trial lawyer propaganda.
According to on-the-spot focus groups, I wasn't alone in my judgment. In Ohio, 50 undecided women voters were given dials to gauge their moment-by-moment reactions to the debate. When McCain attacked, their dials went down. When Obama talked about finding common ground on abortion rights, their dials went up. According to Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, who conducted the focus groups jointly with GOP pollster Brenda Wigger, by the end of the night, these swing women voters were divided about two-to-one in favor of Obama.
Fox News pollster Frank Luntz found much the same thing in Virginia. According to Luntz, at the beginning of the debate not one person in his focus group of undecided swing voters had decided to support Obama. By the end, more than half were.
Obama's success in turning the debate back to the issues that matter to ordinary Americans -- the economy, health care, energy independence -- gave women voters what they've been looking for: someone with clear ideas and a sincere dedication to making government work for the middle class. Time after time, he refused to engage in McCain's petty political negatives and repeatedly brought the conversation back to the issues that swing women voters care about.
We can't afford to be complacent, but it's encouraging to see Americans giving Obama an edge in the race for the White House. So what about the rest of the ballot? Races for Congress, Senate, governor, and state legislatures are right on the bubble and could go either way. These same swing voters, often women, hold Obama's fate in their hands -- and they have the power to elect Democrats up and down the ticket who will support Obama's agenda for change. My sense is that they are moving in our direction -- but we still have to show them that they only way to make change is to give President Obama working Democratic majorities in Congress and in the states. EMILY"s List WOMEN VOTE! and our progressive allies are in the field right now contacting millions of voters to elect our candidates.
I think we will see dramatic Democratic gains on Nov. 4, including electing Barack Obama president and a record number of women across the country. But that will only happen when women voters decide that Republican candidates at all levels support the Bush-McCain economic policies that have made such a mess of our country. For us to move in a better direction, they need to elect Democrats from the state House all the way up to the White House.