17 October 2008

Eighteen days out

I have begun to outline a post tentatively entitled, "The colossal failure of Steve Schmidt." Schmidt, of course, has been in charge of Sen. McCain's campaign since early July. In the now-likely event that McCain loses, it will be posted the day after the election. I'm hoping it never sees the light of day.

However, as was noted by an astute Washington Post columnist, eighteen days is an eternity in presidential politics. As dark a picture as some polls have painted, a national Gallup poll released today shows the Senior Senator down to Sen. Obama by just two points. Two separate polls -- one from Rasmussen and another from SurveyUSA -- released in the last 24 hours have McCain tied with Obama in Florida and up two in Ohio. Given the fluidity of the race to this point, the Changemaker needs to keep his foot on the pedal.

McCain was clearly at his best for most of Tuesday night. The "if you wanted to run against President Bush, you should have run four years ago" line was perhaps the high point of the entire election season. He addressed Obama directly instead of speaking simply to the moderator. He hit the Hopemonger hard on taxes, and scored huge political points with his 15 (really -- they counted) references to "Joe the plumber."

Most analysts asked rhetorically whether this performance was enough to close what was becoming a sizable Obama lead. My question, however, is where was this guy several weeks ago? This is the John McCain that people want to elect president.

His performance was not without its flaws, however. McCain had two choices with the Bill Ayers issue -- either hammer Obama over the head with it and back him into a corner, or don't bring it up at all. Instead, McCain simply asked the Pope of Hope to provide the American people with "answers," and Obama laid out well-rehearsed explanation of his long-ago ties to the hippie now sitting comfortably in his ivory tower.

After the response, McCain didn't press the issue -- and that was his mistake. While I think Obama's actions ten years ago were entirely unbecoming of a man who styles himself presidential material, he made an articulate case to voters why it is that Bill Ayers isn't an issue, and clearly scored points.

I thought Team Maverick's choice to make an issue out of the aging hippie was a colossal mistake. While Ayers is a despicable human being, and Obama's associations with him were far closer than Team Hope wants to admit, such is not a valid talking point at the height of the most dangerous economic crisis since the Great Depression. Sen. Clinton's campaign brought the Ayers issue to light during the primary season, and many voters were already well aware of the connection. Obama was not only able to explain away his ties to Ayers, but also used the attack as a way to paint McCain as further out of touch with the economic hardships of normal Americans. Unbelievably, Obama was the winner of the Ayers exchange.

To its credit, Team Maverick has finally grasped the reality that their candidate must act like he cares about voters' economic concerns if he is to have any shot at the Oval Office. By painting Obama as a tax-and-spend wealth distributor, McCain is giving himself one last shot.

As Howard Fineman has noted, John McCain has been left for dead more than once before.

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