One of the biggest pieces of news in the campaigns recently was the McCain camp's desertion of Michigan. Although a variety of factors are involved, it looks like the Democrat's 50-state strategy is paying off by making McCain spend more time and money defending what he thought were safe states, also causing him to be unable to project as much force as he wants to in some key states.
In response to his falling numbers in the polls, the Washington Post tells us today that the McCain campaign's answer will be to talk tougher in the ads:
Sen. John McCain and his Republican allies are readying a newly aggressive assault on Sen. Barack Obama's character, believing that to win in November they must shift the conversation back to questions about the Democrat's judgment, honesty and personal associations, several top Republicans said.
With just a month to go until Election Day, McCain's team has decided that its emphasis on the senator's biography as a war hero, experienced lawmaker and straight-talking maverick is insufficient to close a growing gap with Obama. The Arizonan's campaign is also eager to move the conversation away from the economy, an issue that strongly favors Obama and has helped him to a lead in many recent polls.
Shifting the debate is something that Republicans have excelled at in recent years. Before we were even in Afghanistan the neocons were talking about Iraq. Instead of the failure of the first four years of Bush policies, we were talking about whether Kerry had actually chased a guy around a hut and shot him. Now it appears they want to shift the debate back to Obama's experience and the nature of his associations with less than savory characters William Ayers and Antoin Rezko.
I'm not giving predictions here, but just from my observations it doesn't seem like them trying to get people interested in shady characters from Obama's past is going to gain any more traction now than it has already. Despite the bailout package being passed yesterday, just about nobody thinks this is really going to turn our economy around dramatically. It should help, but just about nothing is going to change the situation very quickly. Unless some private investor happens to have a couple trillion to hand out, we're in for the long haul.
Earlier, in his weekly radio address, Bush spoke cautiously about the economy's future. "My administration will move as quickly as possible, but the benefits of this package will not all be felt immediately. The federal government will undertake this rescue plan at a careful and deliberate pace to ensure that your tax dollars are spent wisely," he said.
You know when Bush isn't telling you the economy is rosy and dismissing any evidence to the contrary, things are pretty grim. To get back to the point, it appears that bad economic news is good for Obama. Can McCain refocus the conversation on Obama's credentials? I don't know, but I just get the feeling that for the average voter, we're past that point. Besides which, Obama has shown he knows how to hit back; all he has to do is point out that McCain "backed Bush" (by which he means voted in support of a Presidentially backed bill) 95% of the time in 2007. Both arguments will probably work just as well on voters, which means not much would change.
Obama is apparently trying to shift the dialog to healthcare, which gives him an opportunity to completely beat up Republicans for not allowing Democrats to pass a universal health care package and especially McCain for what Obama and Biden have called (to paraphrase) a plan to offer "a $5,000 credit to offset a $12,000 loss". I'm honestly not sure if this is going to capture the attention of those voters still swaying in the breeze, but it at least has a chance. I will make one prediction though; if Obama can shift the dialog his way before McCain can (or rather blocks McCain from doing it), McCain will have virtually no chance to refocus attention again before the election arrives. And if that's the case, he's better off just hoping for a miracle.