The conventional wisdom about this campaign is that in some sense it “should” naturally fall into Barack Obama’s lap. It might not, though, because people have “doubts” about Obama. Thus his task is to “introduce himself” to the American people and cross some threshold of basic acceptability. But as this chart from Charles Franklin shows, that may not be right:
This makes a lot of sense. Before this campaign started, John McCain was the most popular politician in America and Barack Obama was a widely admired rising political star. The result, as this graph shows, is that the key contested voting block seems to be voters who like both McCain and Obama. Despite the press’s obsession with a small number of die-hard Obama-hating Clinton fans, Obama has a sixty percent favorable rating. That means the bulk of the people who don’t have a favorable view of Obama are going to be people who are just a lot more conservative than the average voter — people who it would be both difficult and unnecessary for Obama to impress.
Under the circumstances, both candidates have essentially the same task — not to expand their own appeal, which is about as high as you can expect a candidate in a contested race to get — but to cause the center of public opinion to fall out of love with his opponent.