Which Candidate Is Candidate For Change? Independent political strategist Matthew Dowd talks with Renee Montagne about how the McCain-Palin ticket is co-opting Barack Obama's change message. They discuss tactics and what Obama's campaign can do to reclaim its message.
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Which Candidate Is Candidate For Change?

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Which Candidate Is Candidate For Change?

Which Candidate Is Candidate For Change?

Which Candidate Is Candidate For Change?

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Independent political strategist Matthew Dowd talks with Renee Montagne about how the McCain-Palin ticket is co-opting Barack Obama's change message. They discuss tactics and what Obama's campaign can do to reclaim its message.

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

As you may have noticed, John McCain is now calling himself and his running mate, Sarah Palin, the candidates of change. Here's an ad from their campaign.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL ADVERTISEMENT)

W: He battled Republicans and reformed Washington. She battled Republicans and reformed Alaska. They'll make history. They'll change Washington. McCain-Palin: real change.

MONTAGNE: And you've heard this claim a lot, but from Barack Obama. He's noticed, too.

BARACK OBAMA: We've been talking about the need to change this country for 19 months, and I guess that it must be working because suddenly now, John McCain's saying I'm for change, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE, CHEERING)

MONTAGNE: Thanks for joining us.

MATTHEW DOWD: Great to be here.

MONTAGNE: Well, as we've just heard Barack Obama say, he's been talking about this for 19 months. It does seem as if the McCain campaign has been able to pick off this message of Obama's rather easily.

DOWD: Well, I think in the short term, I think he's been able to do it. Barack Obama was the change candidate, and the country wanted change from the current administration. And through the course of the convention and the pick of Governor Palin, I think John McCain has been able to even the score for right now. And how long that will last and how real that change is in the poll numbers, I don't think we'll know for a few weeks. But the McCain Campaign, I think John McCain has been has been successful at now being an advocate of change, even though they're part of the current Republican infrastructure.

MONTAGNE: Blogs, the press, of course, the Obama campaign, they've continued to point out that Sarah Palin supported building the bridge until it wasn't tenable. But will the McCain campaign be able to continue to use this and other elements of Palin's political biography as an illustration of what a maverick she is?

DOWD: I think over the course of the coming days and weeks, how credible Sarah Palin's story is and what she uses as evidence will be revealed. I think the bridge to nowhere discussion that she's now used at every stop creates, over time, some inauthenticity in her. But every single media, every single report has said that at best, it's a half- truth that she opposed the bridge to nowhere. And at worst, it's a total made-up story.

MONTAGNE: I just want to remind listeners that you have been a Republican strategist. But as we turn now to your opinion on whether or not the Obama campaign can really go after Sarah Palin and, at the same time, can it afford not to?

DOWD: I think the Obama campaign is going to have to vet somebody, Sarah Palin, that nobody really knows. You know, she has a record as mayor and as governor of Alaska that I think people are going to want to see. And so I think that's what they're going to have to do, but I also think what the Obama campaign is going to have to do is try to return this to a campaign about issues and about substance and not allow it to be totally a campaign based in personality.

MONTAGNE: And, of course, both candidates, presidential candidates, do have real, serious messages on the issues.

DOWD: The longer that goes on, I think the better for them. It really is an amazing thing, though, that they've been able to discuss a change argument. It's almost as if they're saying if you want a change from us, vote for us, which is sort of an ironic message. Or we broke it, let us fix it. But they've been able to be successful, primarily because Sarah Palin has come on like a celebrity, like what they accused Barack Obama of, and it's sort of overshadowed those logical arguments.

MONTAGNE: It does feel like the Obama campaign is on the defensive about what they would say is their own message.

DOWD: Every day that goes forward where they're trying to, you know, figure out the right tone, the right words to say, how to handle her especially is a difficult day for them.

MONTAGNE: Matt, thank you very much for talking with us.

DOWD: Great to be here. Always glad to be here.

MONTAGNE: Matthew Dowd is an independent political consultant who, in 2004, served as chief strategist to the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign. This is NPR News.

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