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Obama’s Closing Moment

TAMPA, Fla.–At last, someone listened. This morning in my piece examining Sen. Barack Obama’s ability to pull away from his Republican rival, Sen. John McCain, in the polls I suggested he might find a good, if unlikely role model in Ronald Reagan. Like Obama, Reagan was a candidate of the opposition party during a time of inflation and high gas prices at home. At the same time, Iranian hostage crisis made Washington look relatively weak abroad. But Reagan, running against an unpopular incumbent, Jimmy Carter, was still unable to make a significant move in the polls.

What the former California governor needed was a closing moment. And he found it in the final televised debate of 1980 where he famously delivered the line that still echoes today when he asked America, “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?”

Now, Obama, channeling the spirit of Reagan, has decided to follow the Gipper’s footsteps almost to the letter. While addressing a crowd in St. Petersburg this morning, Obama eerily said to the crowd: “So the first thing I want to do, Florida, is just ask you a very simple question," Obama said. "Do you think that you are better off now than you were four years ago or eight years ago? And if you don’t think you’re better off, do you think you can afford another four years of the same failed economic policies that we’ve had under George W. Bush? Can’t afford it.”

Now we’ll learn whether this simple line of rhetoric, which worked so well for Reagan, can be used in stump speeches over and over again. Like Carter and the Democrats in 1980, there is no good response to this question for the Republicans and McCain, no way they can actually say, "Well, yes we are better off" when they look around the American landscape to see pension funds drained, homes being foreclosed at record rates, gas prices at historic highs and the U.S. military forces drained as they fight two foreign wars.

Indeed, when we look back on this race over martinis at The Palm in Washington or beers at Mac and Joe’s in uptown Oxford, Ohio, we might look to this morning and say this is the moment when Obama finally began to do seal the deal. This is when he began his close.

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