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September 16th, 2008
02:43 PM ET

Obama needs a second act

Editor's Note: Republican strategist Alex Castellanos was a former campaign consultant for Mitt Romney's presidential campaign and has worked on more than half a dozen presidential campaigns. Castellanos is a partner in National Media Inc., a political and public affairs consulting firm that specializes in advertising. He has produced many Republican political ads and has clients such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Alex Castellanos
CNN Contributor

In theater, they say the second act is the hardest to write. It requires relentless focus and discipline. The writer must give himself fearlessly to one central idea and never waver, though temptation is the opposite: There are many paths a story can take.

So it is in politics, as Barack Obama's campaign is learning.

The clear campaign of change ran into trouble in Act II when it was tasked with explaining what change actually meant. Obama, as they say in show business, "ran out of script."

The wind in his sails stalled in the hot calm of August and he has yet to recover. After John McCain's improbable resuscitation to seize the GOP nomination, the Arizona senator's top aides briefed him about his exacting challenge: He would go into the conventions trailing Obama by at least 8 percentage points and then battle back through the fall to parity.

Yet, as cooler days and hotter rhetoric mark the start of the fall finale, it is Obama who finds himself clawing back, forced to attack, launching uncharacteristic partisan and personal attacks against a McCain who has "lost track" of and is "confused" about how many houses he owns.

How did the soaring campaign of change become grinding politics-as-usual and crash so thunderously to earth?

Keep reading...


Filed under: Barack Obama • Raw Politics
soundoff (24 Responses)
  1. Gilby-HI

    Obama can sure tell falsehoods with style and grace.

    September 16, 2008 at 10:12 pm |
  2. Annie Kate

    Its hard to tell who is for what right now in the election process with all the negative ads. I know to a degree negative ads work but surely we are well past that degree – what about some positive ads featuring some of the things the candidate will do if elected. I'd be far more interested in them than in the latest mud slinging event of the day.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    September 16, 2008 at 9:38 pm |
  3. Kristin

    Terry,
    The money that the Obama campaign is raising at rapid rates is given to him by me and the 2.5 million other citizens who see his leadership qualities of intelligence, integrity, judgement, and statesmanship worthy of electing him President. Obama/Biden 08

    September 16, 2008 at 9:35 pm |
  4. A Canadian

    As a Canadian watching the election, I cannot believe that McCain and Palin ticket could win! If they are elected, the world will shake their head in wonder.

    I have read and heard alot that McCain chose Palin because she is a woman (an equivalent to Clinton... I don't think so!). I cannot believe that women will vote for Palin because she is a woman – she will put women back to a time when they could not make a choice! She advocates censure on books! She is under investigation! There are so many other similar issues to consider and their position doesn't look good if you are looking at wise decision making capabilities!

    I would hope your wonderful country will make a wise decision for the next four years and not take such a risky chance on so many levels, especially having Palin potentially as your commander-in-chief if McCain is unable. And, finally, I hope your history lessons endure when it comes to standing up for NOT having religion in government!

    September 16, 2008 at 9:27 pm |
  5. lynn

    The only "change" McCain is offering is his constantly changing message...first the fundamentals of the economy are strong"...then not so much.....then a 911 comission hearing on regulation...though he has always been for deregulation...then he realized that was against his no "insiders" stories.,,,so he dropped that...

    To quote the phrase that he has now taken from Obama: "Enough is Enough".

    September 16, 2008 at 9:20 pm |
  6. john

    How can Obama say "change" when he surrounds himself with people in the senate who have been there for years and have OLD ideas. Can you say "BIG GOVERMENT" with our tax dollars.

    September 16, 2008 at 9:04 pm |
  7. lampe

    Many People, put all their faith in Obama, because he sold them a bill of goodscalled "CHANGE." And they waited around for him to explain, what exactly this CHANGE was.. Now 19 months later, he is still talking about CHANGE, except now he is trying to sell people another bill of goods, named Biden, which is in no way CHANGE. Ithink the real problem is that the people are finally realizing, that Obama's CHANGE, is just more of the same.

    September 16, 2008 at 8:58 pm |
  8. Cathy

    Americans are brain washed. If they elect McCain/Palin for another 4 years they deserve to go broke, lose all of their jobs to overseas companies, and have their rights taken away so they can feel safe.

    September 16, 2008 at 8:47 pm |
  9. Sandy, Arkansas

    I think the "second act" is right. Many American citizens are now beginning to get over the euphoria of "change" and ask "Where's the Beff?" Change is not a word or a philosophy...it is action. What has Obama attempted to change in the political rangling of Chicago politics? Show me the beef...don't just talk about it! I am still waiting to be persuaded by either candidate. If they could stop talking about each other long enough to talk to the American people with some substance it would be appreciated.

    September 16, 2008 at 8:30 pm |
  10. Mary

    Unfortunately, Obama has run out of fresh ideas and has gone back to his silly BLAME GAME. His state senate district lost 11% of the jobs while he was there and he thinks he is the ecomomic expert. Wheeeeew.

    September 16, 2008 at 8:13 pm |
  11. GAIL Centre,Al;

    Sarah Palin has knocked the winds out of his sail. I love it.

    YOU GO GIRL

    MCcain- Palin 08

    September 16, 2008 at 7:42 pm |
  12. Lisa

    Alex, Obama's 2nd Act will be when he is sworn in!

    September 16, 2008 at 7:41 pm |
  13. BOB

    The latest on Fanny and Fredy the #2 supporter is Obama check that out, what a LIE taking about others and why they got them in dier strats.

    September 16, 2008 at 7:34 pm |
  14. Trish A

    Alex I applaud your energetic attempt to sell ice to the Eskimos but they no longer have any use for it since Palin became Govenor and her Over Heated Oil Drilling Machinery started melting the caps!

    I noticed you didn't give us any theory on John Boy's Act II or III then that's not so surprising given the Man can't even come up with one single Punch Line or Slogan that doesn't belong to Obama! "

    But here's my version of John's Act III if your interested. The Palin Friends who are now busy at calling off the Investigative Dogs on the Pit Bull scents will FAIL. The case will go into full third gear weeks BEFORE the Election and America will be informed about her less than honourable attempts at using her position to achieve her personal Vendetta. And that won't be all Americans will be finding out about Palin.(But I assume you know the rest.)

    Her portrayal of the religious Holier than Thou Hockey Mom will be but a pleasant memory of times long ago. And her dreams of being a VP will be just that. A Dream. And Obama will congratulate her and John for running an energetic Campaign and begin restoring the devastation that George and John brought upon our Nation through stupidity, greed, and their obsession for Power. THE END

    September 16, 2008 at 7:29 pm |
  15. Jeff in Los Angeles

    Maria.....hahahahaha...hit the nail on the head. Sorry Alex.

    September 16, 2008 at 7:01 pm |
  16. Ida Heile

    I am not surprised! After 8 years of the Bush Administration with it's Republican Entourage, destroying America's image and reputation all over the world, we expect nothing from you other than slander and hostile rhetoric against democrats.

    September 16, 2008 at 6:25 pm |
  17. Terry Fox

    I would like to know where the money comes from that Obama is raising for his campain.

    September 16, 2008 at 6:21 pm |
  18. maria Wells

    hmm...lets see: Republican strategist Alex Castellanos was a former campaign consultant for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign and has worked on more than half a dozen presidential campaigns. Castellanos is a partner in National Media Inc., a political and public affairs consulting

    Castellanos: You should have tried that Second Act when you were a consultant for Mitt Romney. You are aware he lost, right? Take your own advice buddy before dishing it out.

    September 16, 2008 at 5:40 pm |
  19. nate

    Hi Alex,

    This CNN contribution was written masterfully well! John McCain did an exceptional job identifying change as "Country First" and contrasting his view to that of Barack Obama which loosely defines change as all of the above. The unfortunate thing about the Obama campaign is that their definition of change keeps changing! We as Americans cannot plan for our future if we do not know where Obama stands firm on key important issues particularly his taxation plan. Obama has not delineated a plan on how he is going to pay for his social program promises. He states that only those making over 250K will see their taxes changed eventhough there are a variety of other taxes that may adversely affect the middle class. For example, local property tax, as well as, State and Federal gas tax may increase due to lack of Federal Funding for Federal Mandated Programs since Obama may have to divert massive amounts of funds towards Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other social programs he will generate during his tenure. Obama's luster and facade is slowly eroding and the reality of his potential Administration is starting to scare Middle Class America.

    September 16, 2008 at 5:04 pm |
  20. Lesley

    What is Mr. Castellanos talking about? Obama is not being changed by the Democratic party at all! He has been talking all the while about bottom-up changes on everything, decrying the from the top down theories of the Republican party, starting with their economic philosophy. Mr. C. needs a vacation. After November 4th, and his party loses the election, I hope he uses the time for rest and relaxation.

    September 16, 2008 at 4:57 pm |
  21. RJ

    Alex,

    Ask your Republican buddies what's worse, sending over 4,000 soldiers to their deaths in a false war or forcing women to have babies after rape?

    If you want to control the bodies of women you can always convert to the religion that actually supports your beliefs.

    September 16, 2008 at 4:54 pm |
  22. Cindy

    Obama's campaign soar crashed because people actually got tired of the rhetoric and actually wanted to hear a concise plan on how he was going to make these changes. Once it was seen that he had none everything started to crumble. That is the truth. More and more people are questioning him on that.

    And you are so right on Obama being the one for change but his party would have no part of it. They want to do business as usual and make their part in the government bigger.

    Obama always cries McCain is the same as Bush...well he can't talk. He has voted 95% of the time with the dems and never hardly ever votes against them. They other times he didn't vote or just said present. So who is the same old same old here?

    Cindy...Ga.

    September 16, 2008 at 3:12 pm |
  23. JC- Los Angeles

    As an Independent, I found it stunning to see a candidate run on change and be accepted as a change agent by the media and legions of supporters when actual change was hard to reference.

    The real dilemma for Obama is the fact that he could advance within the corrupt, Chicago, Democratic political machine without having to change its very structure; his change message would resonate more clearly if he actually changed the corrupt establishment.

    Palin on the otherhand couldn't advance within Alaska's political machine without changing the corrupt, old guard.

    After four years, book advances, memoirs, endless words and one stage productions, the only constant is that talk is cheap.

    September 16, 2008 at 3:05 pm |
  24. MW / CA

    Alex – Such drama. If only it were the truth. It is just another distraction from the truth.

    Stay tuned for the next episode of "Leave it to Palin" Watch as Sarah Palin debates OJ on which one of them is the better liar. Wally moderates.

    September 16, 2008 at 2:56 pm |