McCain airs first general election ad

McCain is airing his first general election ad today. The ad, presenting McCain as "the American president Americans have been waiting for," is running in New Mexico, a small state probably chosen for an initial run so that McCain could test his message without too much expenditures (not to mention that New Mexico proved to be one of the tightest states in both 2000 and 2004).

Portraying himself as a strong leader who can govern the country in a time of crisis, McCain is presenting himself as a candidate who has gone through hardships in his life that have toughened him and that give strength to his determination to protect America. "Where has he been? Has he walked the walk?" asks the ad, before showing images of McCain's POW captivity. These same images were shown in New Hampshire in late 2007 and are credited for giving McCain a second chance in that state (which he, of course, ended up carrying on January 8th).

The ad never references Obama, but contrasts are clearly being drawn, and McCain will try to drive home the argument that Obama has not "walked the walk" and that his life experience does not give him the strength to lead. This is not exactly a continuation of Clinton's argument: Hillary's goal has always been to focus on issues and substance to show that she is more prepared than Obama; the last thing McCain wants is for the campaign to be issue-based. His goal is to focus on life stories and symbolism to show that he is more prepared than Obama. This is a key difference and one that could have different results. The Dem electorate wanted "change" more than discussion of meaty issues; if that holds to the general, McCain might be on a more favorable terrain.

And then there is another contrast that is potentially being drawn that is very problematic. I am talking about McCain's emphasis on his being "an American president". What does that mean exactly? Is there any confusion about McCain's nationality? The only two reasons I can think of are: (1) McCain is worried voters have heard about his not being born in Panama and wants to dispel any worry they might have about that, or (2) He is trying to draw a very shady contrast to a potential general election opponent whose origins some voters might have doubts about...

The first reason is particularly incoherent. That Panama controversy only lasted a few days and you can be sure no one but die-heart political junkies heard about it. So we better hope that the general election will not be ran on insidious insinuations like the second hypothesis. (Update: I see that TNR's Michael Crowley is asking similar questions about the McCain ad.)



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