Who is the Underdog?

John McCain is claiming the mantle of the underdog:

GIBSON: Are you the underdog?
MCCAIN: Oh, yes, I think so. I think so. I think — I’m surprised, frankly, to see the polls as close as they are, given our brand problems in the Republican Party. I’m pleased where we are.

But I also think that, not unlike the primaries, that Americans pay attention, but, really, when they start to pay attention is really during the convention and sort of during what has traditionally been the campaign season, after Labor Day.

I don’t think it is nearly as stark as McCain makes it out to be, but it does raise an interesting question. Which candidate really is the underdog in the general election?

The case for McCain is obvious. Obama is a phenomenon. He has just about the best machine a presidential candidate has ever built, at the end of the primary season. He can raise more money than any candidate before him. The economy isn’t so hot. The war is unpopular. Bush is toxic.

But the case for Obama is pretty clear too. McCain spent the vast majority of the last 7 years as the most popular politician in the country. He has a built in credibility as a maverick and a separation from the Republican party’s toxic brand. He didn’t have a long and bitter primary campaign to alienate half his party from him. Obama is a newcomer who was a State Senator 4 years ago. Obama has no built in credibility with voters. There are insidious rumors about Obama that are believed by a significant portion of the population and are actively being pushed by Republicans. Plus, there is a significant portion of the population who won’t vote for him because he’s a black man.

I think these two candidates are going into the general election about even. Both have real strengths and real weaknesses. Obama has a better organization and will likely run a better campaign. McCain has a better intrinsic appeal to the country. Which will win? We’ll see.

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