With two weeks to go, it looks like John McCain is going with Joe the Plumber as the advertising centerpiece of his campaign. Still. That seemed in question to me yesterday, as the fellow's vogue of last week is already fading. But it may be, that absent some fantastic new character attack against Barack Obama, it's the campaign's best shot left at attempting to drive an economic message. Talk about your "mad men."
So McCain has flickery ads with grained-up up the footage, with a message making it sound like Obama will raise everybody's taxes. I guess that's what they think they have to do to punch through when Obama is out-gunning them 4 to 1 on the air. You can see one version of a Joe the Plumber ad above, and one below.
McCain has lately been playing that Joe the Plumber card hard, invoking him more than running mate Sarah Palin, who polls show has become a liability outside the conservative Republican base. That means scaring voters about Obama and his "socialist" policies, as McCain put it the other day, as a big tax-and-spender. But in this environment, most voters probably want government to spend in order to stimulate the economy and provide more of a safety net. So the success of this tack depends on the McCain campaign's ability to convince people that Obama would raise their taxes, and not the taxes of rich people and corporations. The real world Joe the Plumber's taxes would go down with Obama, whose campaign has been very good at driving a message that 95% of Americans would directly benefit from his tax policies.
McCain is also still trying to separate from the albatross 'round his neck called President George W. Bush. As you see in this ad below.
The other big tack is to convince voters that Obama is an unacceptable choice. So the Bill Ayers card keeps getting played. But the polling I see indicates that the vast majority of voters don't think the issue is relevant.
Could the Wright Stuff be far behind? McCain declared it off limits this past spring. But top aide Rick Davis said over the weekend that Congressman John Lewis's remarks criticizing McCain/Palin rallies could put Rev. Wright back on the table. And the sand is slipping through the hour glass.
McCain is trying now, with some heavy personal campaigning, to take Pennyslvania away from Obama. It's his only shot at a blue state takeaway. And it really looks unlikely to me. McCain is also trying to stop Obama from red state takeaways, but sees the Mountain West and Virginia sliding away, amongst others. Obama is in his second full day of campaigning in Florida, joined last night by Hillary Clinton for a rally of 50,000 in Orlando.
I don't think Joe the Plumber ads are enough, especially when Obama is swamping McCain with his own TV ads. The Bill Ayers stuff is now sliding down to the robocall level. After crying "socialism," McCain is trying now to make Obama's readiness an issue, seizing on a Joe Biden comment at Seattle funder that the next president is likely to be tested by a geopolitical crisis in the first six months of 2009. So what's the play, a return of the "3 AM" ad?
But now we know General Colin Powell, McCain's most admired man, who backed McCain over George W. Bush in 2000, will be lending a hand to Obama.
Meanwhile, Obama is blitzing McCain on the air, with a multiplicity of TV ads, many targeted to specific states. One that is playing in many states across the country -- but is unfortunately not available in YouTube format -- features Obama talking to workers, saying he's not worried about Wall Street, he's worried about a name-that-job array of working people with name-those-real world concerns. It's a very effective positive ad.
But for the negative track, he has a brand-new ad, which you see below. It's an example of Obama driving a consistent hard negative against McCain -- which the Obama campaign frequently hasn't done -- and this time it's on the theme that McCain is "erratic."
While it's focused on McCain's performance during the financial crisis, it could also serve to inoculate against a continuing big McCain push on the theme that Obama isn't ready for a geopolitical crisis.
There's nothing quite like multi-tasking for a 21st century presidential candidate.