Voter Unease With Obama Lingers Despite His Lead -- Campaign 2008 bears some striking similarities to the 1980 campaign
The campaign's unusual dynamic appears to be the result of an anxious nation now sizing up an unconventional candidate who presents himself as the agent for change, which voters say they want. The contest thus parallels in some ways the 1980 race, when voters seemed ready for a change away from Jimmy Carter and the Democrats, but weren't persuaded until late in the race that they could be comfortable with a former actor and unabashed conservative, Ronald Reagan, as commander in chief.
"Obama is going to be the point person in this election," says pollster Peter Hart, a Democrat who conducts the Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll along with Republican Neil Newhouse. "Voters want to answer a simple question: Is Barack Obama safe?"
"This is not Obama's race to lose. It's his to win," says Mr. Newhouse, the Republican pollster. "Voters have a sense they know what they're going to get if they elect John McCain, but an uncertainty about Barack Obama that they are trying to sort through."
Campaign 2008 bears some striking similarities to the 1980 campaign, when -- as now -- the resident of the White House was unpopular and his party was suffering. The question was whether the opposition party had nominated a candidate who would be seen as safe or too far out of the mainstream.
In 1980, President Carter was standing for re-election himself, while in 2008 President George W. Bush, is attempting to pass the baton to Sen. McCain. But the questions about the opposing party's candidate, Mr. Reagan, were similar to those now posed about Sen. Obama. Mr. Reagan, a former California governor who had spent no time serving in Washington, was seen as light on experience and lacking in foreign-policy gravitas. Some in the political establishment considered his strong conservative philosophy and anti-Soviet rhetoric to be too extreme for mainstream America.
The doubts about Mr. Reagan lingered until he acquitted himself well in a single nationally televised debate against Mr. Carter, just one week before the election. Ultimately, Mr. Reagan won going away.