Tuesday, October 14, 2008


The McCain campaign was reeling all weekend, with one GOPer talker after another GOPer politician badmouthing and abandoning them. But there are still 21 days to the election. They can make some moves. Unfortunately for them, so can the Obama campaign. And the moves they made on Monday tells you the difference in their strategic thinking.

McCain went for a reboot, a restart of his underdog image. Unfortunately, his basic line--that he's a fighter--and even some of the actual lines (Obama is "measuring the drapes" for the Oval Office) are the latest in a long series of thefts from the Hillary Clinton primary campaign. So what does it say about a campaign that it compulsively steals ideas that have already proven not to work?

Obama on the other hand, who might be tempted to sit on a substantial lead, took the initiative by making several new proposals for an immediate economic "rescue plan for the middle class." The brilliance of this move is in several areas. First, he's telling people what he wants to do, just as they're getting used to the idea that he may well become President. He's zeroed in on ground-level changes, instead of financial institutions. Beyond the public measures he proposed, he also talked about public and private responsibility, about ending the era of living beyond our means. That reassures Independents and Republicans, as well as making sense. He's given people specifics they've asked for, but he's again done it in a larger context, in his call for change. In his themes of we're all in this together, and the importance of this political moment. "Believe in yourselves, believe in each other, and believe in the future."

It is brilliant as well in its timing. It gives Obama something to focus on in the final debate--not with a single surprise proposal, as McCain did, but with an integrated and thought-out plan he introduced in detail. And this initiative may have stolen the initiative from McCain, whose surrogates were loudly announcing all weekend that he would be making new economic proposals on Monday. He didn't, perhaps because his campaign got wind of Obama's intent, although the Obama campaign was typically silent about it much in advance.

Then on Monday McCain's campaign stated that McCain wasn't going to make any new economic proposals--but then suddenly it was announced that McCain was giving a speech on Tuesday with new proposals. So McCain is in the position of reacting, and having his business-friendly tax proposals (as they are rumored to be) contrasted with Obama's emphasis on jobs and Main Street.

With the poll number continuing to get better for Obama, with the Obama campaign outspending and outworking McCain, there is no let up, and Team Obama is continuing to be aggressive. Meanwhile contradictory messages continue to come from what's left of the McCain campaign, including on Wednesday's debate. Some suggest McCain will again stay away from the Ayers stuff that is proving so toxic to his approval numbers, while others promise that McCain will bring it up. McCain has himself raised the stakes and the expectations by promising supporters to "whip [Obama's] you know what."

Wednesday is the last time McCain may have the attention of a large TV audience, assuming people are still going to watch. If he loses this debate, there is no strategery in the world that can help him. And even if he wins, or some external events shake things up, it may only make his defeat a little closer.

But it's also no time for complacency for the Obama campaign--which seems to know that very well--or for supporters. It may still get even uglier (somebody in the McCain campaign says they are saving the really good stuff for the last two weeks) and other campaigns--apparently including Kerry's--thought they had it in the bag but did not. Whatever nervousness we may naturally have, however, the Obama campaign is earning our confidence. They really did that on Monday.

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