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Gurus Handicap the Nominees

So how did we get these nominees, anyway?

Top strategists in both parties tackled that question Tuesday on a “puppet masters” panel at the high-flying TimeWarner politics summit in Manhattan. (I also spoke at the conference.)

Matthew Dowd, the chief strategist for President George W. Bush’s reelection, said Sen. Barack Obama has “begun to dominate the landscape” because he is channeling Bill Clinton’s ability to “walk people through their fears” and then inspire them to “vote their hopes.”

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton was better at addressing working-class anxiety in the primaries, Dowd said, but Obama has gotten better at that in the last “sixty to ninety days.”

Two Democratic strategists, Hillary Rosen and Donna Brazile, stressed broader shifts within the electorate that favored Obama in the primary.

“After the defeat of John Kerry, I think the activist wing of the party,” Brazile said, “wanted a candidate to give voice to some of their frustration.” Obama “heard that sound and began to put the music together,” she posited, while Clinton was caught with a reputation for being the establishment figure in the party.

Rosen picked up on the same theme.

The Clinton campaign seemed to assume that “change” meant switching the party controlling government, Rosen said, when there was actually a deeper hunger for upending the status quo in Washington.

Authenticity was another factor, she argued, as Clinton’s aides were caught in a “circular analysis” about which role Clinton should play, instead of letting her be herself.

For some reason, the perfectly bipartisan panel focused more on the Democratic primary than the GOP’s. And few were in the mood to praise McCain’s political prowess.

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