Michael Barone must know everything about the history of American elections in the last 50 years. How he remembered or dug this up, I don’t know . . . but it’s a spot on memory for this election. He tells the story of how Gerald Ford came back from a 33% deficit behind Carter to nearly defeat him in November--a change of less than 10,000 votes spread across two states (and yes, one was Ohio) would have made all the difference. (It might have made a difference, too, if he had chosen to play football at OSU instead of Michigan as a young man . . . but that’s probably speculation!)
What made the difference? An ad man. A very good ad man. Academics and intellectuals tend (not always without good reason) to turn up their noses at the crassness of the ad man. But the ad man in a campaign--if he does his job correctly--is the same thing as a popular historian or biographer. He examines his subject well and he tells his story in narrative. That’s what Ford’s man did and, though he was not hired until August 7, he got as close as Ford had any right to hope or expect. Though the political scene today is much like the one in 1976, McCain is not in anything like the poor position Ford was in. He’s only a few point behind . . . if that. But imagine what he could do with the right storyteller. And, really, he’s got such a great story to tell. Barone is right to say that he should quit thinking that everyone already knows this story. Most people still know virtually nothing about either candidate. They’ll start paying attention during the conventions. McCain should give them something really good to pay attention to.