To judge from the level of interest their city is giving the two candidates, New Yorkers could be forgiven for thinking the election is already over.
Everywhere you go, you’ll find evidence of the rise of Barack Obama. His face is on t-shirts in shop windows, his name on banners on the side of buildings. At newstands, he can be seen smiling down from copies of The Source, Vibe, Newsweek, Rolling Stone, and (my favourite, this) Men’s Health, where he’s ranked as ‘one of 20 ‘heroes of fitness’.
John McCain, meanwhile, is … nowhere. No t-shirts, no magazines, no campaign posters. In two days the only oblique reference I noted was a sign on a building reading (and I quote) ‘CON$ervative governMENt’.
Even among the city’s conservatives, support for McCain is distinctly flaccid. John Martin is exactly the kind of guy who should be his natural constituency. He’s a fiscal consevative, a Republican and a law student; he serves in the Navy reserve, and last year spent six months in Afghanistan.
Yet he’s voting for the Democrat. What’s more, he’s campaigning for his fellow party members to do the same, under the label Republicans for Obama.
‘The Republicans have created an environment in which people feel comfortable voting for a Democrat,’ he says. ‘Barack Obama doesn’t demonise republicans – he has the same cross party appeal that Ronald Reagan had.’
Martin gives a couple of reasons for his support. Firstly, despite the Senator’s liberal voting record, he’s been impressed by his bi-partisan rhetoric, and his ability to work with conservatives like Tom Coburn; an Obama cabinet would contain plenty of Republicans, he thinks. Secondly, he likes his family values, citing his willingness to tell black fathers to take more responsibility for raising their kids, despite (or perhaps because) of the fact it brought steam shooting from Jesse Jackson’s ears.
The biggest reason for his defection, though, is his anger at McCain for selling out to the Palin wing of the party. He’s had hate mail since coming out for Obama; but even before that he had been called a ‘Rino’ (Republican in Name Only) and been made to feel distinctly unwelcome in the party. McCain had a chance to put a stop to that, reclaim the centre ground, by picking former Democrat Senator Joe Lieberman as his running mate. Instead, he picked Palin.
Martin isn’t the only one that’s riled up about this. Several defecting conservatives – among them Christopher Buckley and Colin Powell – have cited Palin as the reason they’ve thrown their support behind Obama. (As Buckley said, “I didn’t leave the party – it left me.”) In a bar on Saturday night, a friend of mine told me that the Palin pick had pushed his conservative hedge fund-employed wife firmly into the Obama camp. “She shored up the base,” he said. “But it’s killed him with the independents and moderates you need to actually win an election.”
The more people like this that leave the Republican party – membership has dropped by a quarter in four years – the more it’ll be dominated by its evangelical wing. That may make it ideologically purer. But it’ll also make it harder to win.