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Top McCain Strategist to Leave If Obama Becomes Dem Nominee


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The call of Obama

Michael Tomasky


Here's the sort of campaign news you don't often see: An adviser to John McCain has, according to Newsweek, told his campaign that if the Democrats nominate Barack Obama, he'll leave McCain because he can't see himself opposing the Illinois senator.

The adviser is Mark McKinnon, who may fairly be described as a universe of one in US politics. A Democrat, McKinnon nevertheless signed up with George Bush in 2000 as chief media adviser. In those days, he and his television advertising helped finish off McCain's 2000 candidacy. But McKinnon is working for McCain these days.

And now, McKinnon has apparently told his colleagues in the McCain campaign that "while he opposed Obama's policies, especially on Iraq, he felt that the Illinois senator - as an African-American politician - has a unique potential to change the country."

Did I write that this is the kind of campaign news you don't often see? Let me clarify: This is the sort of campaign news you never see. I've covered these things since 1988, more or less, and I'm confident I've never seen a consultant - not just any consultant, but a famous and high powered one - say to his candidate that he might have to bolt from the campaign so he can support someone from the other party. It's completely unheard of (assuming that McKinnon said it; there are no actual quotes in the Newsweek item).

So it's stunning news. But how significant is it? For now, I'd "reasonably," say for three reasons.

First, McKinnon's apparent sentiment is a good symbol of the potential that exists in Obama's candidacy. While he trails Hillary Clinton and even sometimes John Edwards in most polls, it's also the case that he does seem to have more crossover appeal than they do. He tends to do better against the three leading Republicans in head-to-head polls than either Clinton or Edwards, which means by definition that he's getting more support from independent voters.

The idea at the centre of Obama's campaign - more precisely, the central gamble - is that America (or at least 51% of America, i.e. enough to win) is sick of our red-blue schism and wants to be united. Edwards is running a more aggressively liberal campaign, and Clinton, though the most centrist of the three major Democrats, has some obvious hurdles to jump on the unity course. So Obama has self consciously pitched himself as the one with the most crossover appeal.

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