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Fear and loathing on the campaign trail, October 2008

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

October on the campaign trail presented the last chances for the campaigns to present their messages to the American people. A vice-presidential and two presidential debates were held, one of which added a new political lexicon, perhaps the closest thing to an October surprise. One candidate seemed to pull way ahead as early voting began in many states near the conclusion of the month.

Democrats
Obama-backer Colin Powell
  • Joe Biden debated Sarah Palin in St. Louis on October 3, in a forum moderated by Gwen Ifill. Biden issued very little criticism of Palin and remained subdued for much of the night, focusing mostly on foreign policy. Ifill became a subject of controversy before the debate, with commentators questioning her impartiality with the upcoming release of her book, The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama.
  • On the campaign trail, prior to the third presidential debate, Obama was approached by plumber Joe Wurzelbacher of Holland, Ohio. Joe asked Obama whether his taxes would be raised if he bought a plumbing company as he was planning to do. Obama stated that he didn’t “want to punish [his] success” but that “everyone who is behind him” should be given a “chance at success.” He later stated that he thought “when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.”
  • Obama defended his tax plan during the third presidential debate with McCain while facing many McCain comments about “Joe the plumber.” He repeatedly stated that his tax plan would lower taxes for households making under US$200,000 a year, which he said made up 95% of Americans.
Republicans
  • At the vice-presidential debate, Sarah Palin became the first woman since the 1984 United States presidential election to participate in such an event. It was the most widely watched vice-presidential debate in history with an estimated 70 million viewers. During the debate Palin characterized herself as a “Washington outsider” who “may not answer the questions the way the moderator and you (Senator Biden) want to hear.” She focused mostly on energy policy during the debate.
  • The second presidential debate was held on October 7 and moderated by Tom Brokaw. During the debate McCain announced his support for a spending freeze of programs other than those for defense or veterans. When discussing energy policy, McCain famously referred to Obama as “that one.”
  • The McCain campaign launched a series of ads connecting Obama to former Weather Underground member William Ayers, who served on a board with Obama and held a venue at his home for the Senator when he began his political career. Palin accused Obama of “palling around with terrorists.” Some pundits saw the new strategy as a last ditch effort by the McCain campaign.
  • McCain’s campaign was compared to that of segregationist George Wallace’s by Congressman John Lewis, who commented that the campaign was “sowing the seeds of hatred and division.” Lewis pointed to McCain supporters who shouted obscenities about Barack Obama during a McCain rally, including one who reportedly yelled “kill him” when referring to Obama (a claim later refuted by the Secret Service). McCain discussed this during the third presidential debate, and asked Obama to repudiate the comments.
  • During the third presidential debate, McCain used the earlier discussion between Obama and Joe the Plumber as a tool to attack Obama on his tax policy. He strongly objected to Obama’s support for “spreading the wealth” which he likened to socialism. The debate led to a small comeback for McCain in opinion polling, cutting into Obama’s lead as the month came to a close.
Third parties
  • Ralph Nader and Chuck Baldwin were able to participate in a third party presidential debate on October 23 in Washington. Each discussed their strong opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as their disapproval of the government’s bailout plan. Baldwin and Nader had some disagreement on abortion, with Nader standing pro-choice and Baldwin standing as pro-life. Nader emphasized the need to control the power of corporations over consumer’s lives and Baldwin stated that his number one priority as president would be to secure the borders.
  • On October 30, Nader and Baldwin participated in another third party debate. Libertarian party nominee Bob Barr joined the candidates for this debate. During the debate, the candidates railed against the two major parties with Ralph Nader complaining that they don't like "competition." Barr conveyed his frustration with the Justice Department for their failure to prosecute Wall Street corporate leaders. Baldwin expressed his fear for America's future.


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Editor's note

Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail... is a monthly article about the campaign events during the past month. The title is based on the series of articles written by journalist Hunter S. Thompson and compiled into a publication entitled Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72.