Friday, Oct. 10 at 3 p.m. ET

Election 2008: McCain Campaign's Angry Audience

Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post National Political Reporter
Friday, October 10, 2008; 3:00 PM

Washington Post national political reporter Perry Bacon Jr. will be online Friday, Oct. 10 at 3 p.m. ET to take questions about his article on the mood and rhetoric of supporters at recent McCain campaign rallies.

Anger Is Crowd's Overarching Emotion at McCain Rally (Post, Oct. 10)

Submit your questions and comments before or during the discussion.


Perry Bacon Jr.: I'm Perry Bacon, one of the political writers at the Post. I was traveling with Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin this week, and Michael Shear and I wrote a piece in today's paper about a very passionate, fiery crowd at an event in Wisconsin. Looking forward to you questions.


Oklahoma City: Political partisans always go over the top in a heated election, but it's not just McCain rallies. Leftists showed up at a Palin rally last week holding a giant caricature of a vagina, and it was an Obama fundraiser who tried to storm the stage during McCain's acceptance speech at the GOP convention, shrieking obscenities. I'll swap you one caricature of Hitler and a dozen howls of "fascist!" from the left for your examples of slurs from the McCain trail. Hate is hate, and it exists on both extremes, but that does not mean the candidates themselves share it.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I agree partisans on both sides are very intense, particularly this year. I would save I found yesterday compelling in part because the crowd seemed so intent on giving McCain advice to get tougher.


Golden, Colo.: Thanks for taking my question. Aren't these stump speeches just preaching to the choir? I mean sure, the Republicans are angry -- their candidate is behind in the polls -- but how many independents and swing voters are actually attending these things? McCain can rile his base up all he wants -- they can't win the election without the independent vote, and don't they hate this kind of negativity? What is this really accomplishing?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think we mentioned in the piece that many of the people who attend these rallies get tickets from the local GOP office in their county. I suspect independents and swing voters are not in huge numbers. McCain's event yesterday was a town hall, so he took questions. With a crowd full of partisans, you tend to get questions about political strategy (why aren't you taking him? shouldn't you be saying this) that I suspect don't help the candidate woo undecided voters. Obama isn't taking questions at most of his rallies, and while I love hear to see the candidates take questions because then we have more material to write about than just the stump speech, I wonder about the utility of having intense partisans ask questions. I found the q and a at the town hall debate much less tactical, and I think undecideds want to hear more about the issues.


Anonymous: What struck me as funny from your recent article was that now all of a sudden the Republican Party is worried about voter fraud and other issues related to voting. I don't remember them being too concearned with this issue in 2000. They bring it up as some sort of wedge issue to mobilize the base instead of discussing or working on some sort of voting reform (funny that this comes up when McCain is doing poorly in the polls as well). Am I off base here?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I disagree with you here in that Republicans brought about worries of voter fraud in 2000 and 2004 as well. I think Democrats in 2004 constantly raised concerns about voters in poor or minority neighborhoods being obstructed from voting as well. I think some of the intensity at ACORN, a liberal group that tries to register voters who are likely to vote Democratic, is being stemmed by discussions by conservative talk show hosts. Palin was on Laura Ingraham's radio show yesterday, and Ingraham was very focused on the issue, which is not something Palin talks about on the stump herself.


Arlington, Va.: Is the frustration or anger a reflection of fear that the right will be out of power? They have had it for eight years. Maybe they are not ready to give it up?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Well, yes and no. The people I spoke to in the crowds, while Bush voters, had their own concerns about the last eight years, particularly the last two with the Democrats in control of Congress. I don't think many of the people who are seeing Palin and McCain are strong supporters of the bailout/rescue Congress approved last week. But there is an intense feeling that Obama is winning (people who attend rallies follow politics and polls) and that there is a feeling that McCain is not doing enough and the media is pro-Obama. Bush never trailed by this much in most polls in 2004, so there was less panic.


Portland, Ore.: With all the anger being aimed at the media, are reporters covering the rallies getting a little concerned for their safety? Never thought I would have to ask such a question, but these are crazy times.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I haven't spoken to every reporter on the trail, but generally, we're not worried about our security. People boo at the mention of the New York Times (Palin was mentioning the Times in her rallies, I"m sure they would boo the Post if she brought us up too) but I no, I feel no concern about safety. There is lots of security at these events, but it's more people are upset at the media at large, not individual reporters. I chat with voters at these events and while they ask which way the Post leans in a way that suggests they view us as too liberal, people still talk to us and answer our questions.


Washington: Any sense of what these angry rallies are doing to other groups of potential McCain voters? For example, Florida is important to McCain, and many elderly Jewish voters are skeptical of Obama ... but I have to think they look at some of these rallies and see George Wallace or even Father Coughlin, and wonder what is going on inside the McCain camp.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I don't have a great sense of that, no. The tone of the McCain has shifted in the last few days, as the candidate and his running mate are talking about William Ayers and Obama's "judgment" as Palin puts it, in a different light. I will be curious what the polling over the next week shows. I suspect this isn't making a huge dent, if only because the Obama campaign had this big campaign on Monday linking McCain to the Keating Five scandal, but has not really highlighted that in several days.


Los Angeles: Perry, do you think having Gov. Palin, a woman, be the attack dog is a better or worse strategy for McCain?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I don't know how much her gender has to do with it, it's a very traditional role for a vp candidate to take, and Biden has done that some this year as well; he has more directly tried to cast McCain as having a bad temper than Obama. What strikes me about Palin is that this use of her is a bit of a change, as they seemed to target her to woo undecided women and Hillary voters when she was first named. She's now doing much more wooing the faithful than talking to swing voters, at least in her comments on the stump. You need a strong base and swing voters to win an election, so I don't question the strategy. Democrats say Palin's ability to woo undecided was weakened by her uneven performances in those interviews with Katie Couric.


Washington: I am fascinated by the chants of "USA! USA!" that happen at Republican rallies. Can we get some sort of study done to examine why people chant that? Do they think that the Democrats aren't pro-USA? Is that just the simplest, most mindless thing they can chant? I can't figure out why they do it.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I covered Kerry more than Bush in 2004, so I can't compare this to past elections, but I was kind of struck by that chant in some ways too. To be fair, some of that comes after Palin or McCain talks about military service or putting "Country First" (McCain's slogan) so that makes sense.


Corvallis, Ore.: How much does the McCain cammpaign control the kinds of people who attend McCain and/or Palin rallies? That is, are only committed Republicans admitted? If so, how is that determined? And does the Democratic ticket have the same procedures to control partisan composition of crowds?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I mentioned earlier that many of these events are ticketed, and you get tickets by going to the local GOP headquarters, so you talking about committed Republicans. Lots of Obama rallies don't require tickets, but you have to get there hours early to get in, so you again have a pro-Obama crowd. I think the tone of yesterday was set not by who was there, but by the frustration of the people at the state of the campaign and that by allowing people to ask questions, McCain opened up a forum for people to vent in some ways.


Rockville, Md.: I guess the obvious question is, what responsibility do Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin have to chastise the crowd if they yell something irresponsible referring to Sen. Obama, such as "kill him" or "terrorist"?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I've gotten a couple of different versions of this question, so let me try to address it. Several different things have been yelled at different rallies this week; I've only heard the term "terrorist" shouted when Palin brings up Ayers, not as a reference to Obama, for example. I don't know how much of these things Palin or McCain have heard this week. We haven't had a situation where a questioner, with a microphone, has said these most extreme things. That said, the tone of the questions yesterday was very sharp, and both McCain and Palin seemed to join in attacking Obama.


Baltimore: So what happens if Obama gets elected? How do we, as a society, put the hate genie back in the bottle? Hearing Sean Hannity every day basically call Obama a treasonous liar, it's hard to see how to unpoison that water after Election Day. Although, to be fair, it is now the conservatives turn to feel the angst that we liberals felt in 2000.

Perry Bacon Jr.: This is an interesting question. Obama has constantly focused on bringing people together or at least talking about ending the partisan divide. I talked to a woman yesterday who said she couldn't look at the television screen when Obama comes on. I don't know how big the population of people that opposed to him is, but both Clinton and Bush faced the problem of people not accepting them as president and it hurt their abilities to command respect from people who didn't vote for them. Obama has cast himself as almost an FDR style president, able to calm the country in uncertain times through his leadership, but it's a open question if he can command that kind of popular support if he were elected and let's not forgot we still have a few weeks left, a long time in politics.


Houston: I do agree with the earlier poster that those on the extreme left of the spectrum have made some protests in the past, and now, that were pretty spectacularly in poor taste. The difference in the rallies that I have seen and that you are reporting on is the intense personal nature of the comments towards the Democratic ticket, and the willingness of individuals -- on camera -- to express their hate, for lack of a better word. Is this actually what you are seeing?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I do think the personal animosity is high. I don't think if say Biden were the presidential candidate you would have the personal nature of some of the criticism. Hillary Clinton might have also generated similar concerns from GOP crowds and think Bush inspired very personal criticism over the last four years from Democrats.


Michigan: You know, some of the anger from these crowds makes me wonder if Republicans and McCain underestimated Obama. It reminds me a bit of some of the anger Democrats felt when Gore was not crushing Bush back in 2000. Gore and others greatly underestimated Bush's abilities (at least as a campaigner), and eventually it caught up with them.

Perry Bacon Jr.: One thing to keep in mind is that the Republicans are spoke to are rather surprised at how quick things have shifted. A month ago, this seemed like a race anyone could win, and the landscape shift has them questioning McCain and the press, wondering what happened. I don't they underestimated Obama as much as they assumed it would neck and neck and they have a seen from reading/hearing about polls that Obama is ahead.


San Diego: Thanks for your great reporting on this disturbing subject. In a Politico piece today, former McCain strategist John Weaver is quoted as saying that "from a purely practical political vantage point, please find me a swing voter, an undecided independent or a torn female voter that finds an angry mob mentality attractive." So what do you think is McCain's game here? He clearly is playing to his base, but what possible benefit could there be for him in stoking this anger?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Many people vote on character more than issues like health care or the economy, so bringing up Ayers or Rev. Wright may be good politics, I don't have their internal polling in front of me. Republicans feel wooing some undecided voters requires raising questions about Obama's judgment, candor, and honesty. One thing to keep in mind is that McCain didn't intend yesterday's rally to be an anti-Obama pep rally. He was touting some ideas and attacking Obama, but the questioners brought force to the anger that the candidates in some ways fed off of. In the room, it felt like the activists were setting the agenda more than the candidates.


Fountain Valley, Calif.: I heard today that Minnesota's Republican senator Norm Coleman, locked in a tight re-election campaign with Al Franken, said he is suspending negative ads. Do you think he's noticing that the McCain campaign's strategy isn't working, at least in Minnesota?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I'm not following the Coleman campaign, but I"m not sure that McCain's campaign decided to have a really negative rally yesterday. what they have decided to do is take a sharper tone against Obama and polls by next week should tell us if that is working.


San Diego: Is it common for these town hall speakers to be offering campaign advice rather than asking policy-related questions? I just wonder if Kerry got the same kind of treatment when polling behind Bush in 2004.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Just a couple of months ago, you couldn't talk to a Democratic elected official or read a liberal blog without hearing about how Obama needed to more aggressive against McCain. This happens during election cycles as partisans worry about their candidate winning. Just the anger was more intense yesterday and I don't think I know exactly why.


Perry Bacon Jr.: That's all the time we have today, folks. Thanks for reading and thanks for your questions. Perry


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