If Barack Obama loses the election this November (and at this point it's impossible to say whether he will - it's too close to call) it will be because of a series of unforced errors. They are missteps in the campaign that when taken individually don't seem like a huge issue but when combined have the effect of totally derailing what would have otherwise been a hugely successful campaign.
1. The Berlin Speech
It's a speech notable not so much for what he said but where he gave it - surrounded by 200,000 or more European fans. It was Obama trying to act presidential. Some pundits compared it to John F. Kennedy's 1963 speech in Berlin. Obama was already the presumptive Democratic nominee but seemed to be acting like the presumptive president. The most memorable thing about the speech is it was fodder for one of the most effective commercials created by Senator John McCain's campaign.
2. Russia Invades Georgia, Obama Goes on Vacation
As the Beijing Olympics get started, Russia invades neighboring Georgia in a move that brings to mind the early days of the Cold War. Coincidentally, the invasion occurs on the same day that Barack Obama heads to Hawaii for a week long vacation. John McCain stays on the campaign trail and immediately comes out on the side of the Georgians. Obama is left to issue statements for the week that first offer a very confusing response to the crisis. He eventually gets around to blaming Russia but then naively suggests the UN Security Council should take action. Apparently the Senator was not aware of Russia's veto power in the Security Council. By the end of the week Obama has completely changed his position. His response appears weak in a time of crisis and he's rightly criticized for staying on vacation while Eastern Europe is in turmoil.
3. Says answer on abortion is "above his pay grade".
On August 16, Barack Obama and John McCain appear at the Saddleback Leadership and Compassion Forum hosted by the church's pastor Rick Warren. Each candidate is asked separately the same questions but the results couldn't have been more strikingly different. Senator McCain's answers were direct and concise while Senator Obama's answers tended to be more rambling. But the most telling moment of the entire debate was when Pastor Warren asked Senator Obama at what point a baby gets human rights. The Senator's response was, in part, "Well, I think that whether you are looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective, answering that question with specificity, you know, is above my pay grade." As soon as he said that, it was clear that would be the kind of verbal gaffe that would dog him for the remainder of the campaign because it showed a complete unwilingness to take a firm position on a very divisive issue.
4. Joe Biden nominated for Vice President
In order to negate criticism that he is weak on foreign affairs (see item #2 above), Obama selects Joe Biden, the six-term Senator from Delaware as his running mate. The selection is not a huge surprise as he was considered on the short list for some time. However, the rollout of the nomination was a fiasco. He had promised to announce it first to supporters via text message. The media got wind of the pick before the announcement and the official word didn't come from the campaign until 3 A.M. Eastern time. At least cell phone companies benefitted. The other consequence is he forfeits his greatest campaign advantage: the idea that he is a relative outsider ready to change Washington by selecting a running mate who has been part of the establishment almost as long as he's been alive.
5. Hillary Clinton Not Picked for VP and Not Even Considered
Just prior to the opening of the Democratic National Convention in Denver came word that Hillary Clinton, who garnered the support of some 18 million primary voters, had not even been vetted for VP. Obama's failure to nominate Hillary as VP caused great anger throughout Democratic circles giving rise to various protest groups that got a lot of coverage both before and during the convention. As a result, the public gestures of unity seemed awkward and forced.
6. Obama Accepts Nomination At Invesco, or Berlin Part Deux
Obama moves the final night of the Democratic Convention to Invesco Field, home of the Denver Broncos, to accept his nomination in front of over 80,000 cheering fans. Though the campaign tries to downplay the speech, it reminds some of the Berlin Speech. Some Democrats privately worry that the speech may be over the top. At least he solidifies support in that all-imporant constiuency: the media.
If Obama loses, the media will likely focus mostly on item #5. That, to me, is the biggest mistake he made throughout the whole campaign. But it's the combination of all these factors that will ultimately sink his candidacy.