At the same time, pundits and prognosticators of all stripes have been stumped at Obama's inability to break away from McCain – at least in the national polls. He appears to have just about every political advantage in the book. He's a historic figure representing a party whose traditional strengths line up well with voter concerns and he's running against a candidate whose party and president are near all-time lows in popularity. If there ever was a "change" election, this should be it.
So it might be time to ask whether there's something more to this "celebrity" business than just another publicity opportunity for Paris Hilton.
On the surface, the "celebrity" charge is a personal attack on Obama, coupling him with people universally recognized as being famous just for being famous. But there may be something more going on here. A new poll by the Pew Research Center showed that about half of respondents felt they had been hearing too much about Obama recently while about 38 percent said they had not heard enough about McCain.
And what is it that people have been hearing and seeing about Obama? Not in-depth policy positions, not ambitious programs and proposals on health care or the economy. That's not to say Obama hasn't talked plenty about those issues. But what voters have been exposed to mostly is Obama himself – gracing the cover of just about every magazine on the rack, controlled images of him shooting hoops with the troops, interviews with his family on entertainment shows, vague discussions about race and age that have little to do with what this election is really about.
Two thoughts arise here. Perhaps Obama's image is blocking out his message. Maybe because he is a historic, compelling figure who draws adoration and massive crowds in Germany, what he says is drowned out by those pictures. Or maybe Obama has moved too far, too fast toward the center to make his message stand out. Maybe his political skills have watered down his appeal.
The current debate over energy plans is a good example. For a week, the McCain campaign hit Obama over and over again on his opposition to opening up more off-shore domestic drilling. Part of Obama's response to an attack that appeared to be working was to pivot a bit and say he's not opposed to looking at some additional drilling as part of a more comprehensive approach -- a smart political shift perhaps, but one that blurs the differences between the candidates and allows the celebrity meme to survive.
In either case, it's worth asking whether the idea of Obama is outpacing the reality of his candidacy. Even that could be enough for the Democratic nominee to win in November, but for the moment, it appears voters are still looking for more than just the celebrity they've been exposed to recently.
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