McCain launches first major ad and pushes joint town halls

The constant developments of the primary are giving way to a quieter period in which the Obama campaign will map its strategy, staff up, decide on new hires and start building on the state organizations that are already in place in every state thanks to the prolonged race the Illinois Senator had to fight with Hillary Clinton. The most urgent decision that Obama is working on, of course, is the choice of a vice-president. His selection team will now travel to Capitol Hill to talk to Democratic Senators and House members and collect their recommendations. Obama's campaign had already been compiling stories about potential running mates and will now start the vetting process.

Of course, McCain has been preparing for this moment for months since the Republican candidate wrapped up his party's nomination as early as Super Tuesday. For much of the past 5 months, his campaign felt that it was no use wasting money airing ads aggressively and fighting for media attention as the press and of the country was focused on the Clinton-Obama race. But as we saw on Tuesday when John McCain delivered a surprisingly weak speech on primetime television, having had a long time to prepare does not mean that the McCain campaign is ready to come out swinging.

Yet, there are certain things that the McCain campaign has obviously been preparing for a while, starting with its first major general election ad which started airing Friday. Called "Safe," the spot (watch it here) features a stern looking McCain who professes to "hate war" and mentions the fact that he was held for five years as a POW. The message is clear: McCain intends to run on issues of national security and we should not expect him to be shy about mentioning his years in Vietnam, however much McCain has stayed away from campaigning on that in the past.

Politico reports that McCain is running this ad in an impressive list of swing states that gives us a good idea of where the GOP believes the fall campaign will play: Colorado, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The inclusion of Missouri should reassure Democrats that the Show Me State will be competitive in the fall while McCain's determination to target Michigan confirms one of the most surprising storylines of the early stages of the campaign -- Michigan replacing Florida as the third member of the holy trio, along with Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Second, the McCain campaign had been preparing its offensive on holding joint town halls as they issued their challenge to Obama as soon as the Democrat wrapped up his nomination battle on Tuesday. Naturally, Obama's team was in position to agree to such a thing when it had barely started strategizing -- and Republicans knew that, their objective being to put Obama in a hole and advance their argument that he was not ready for the big stage. In fact, McCain proposed that the first event be held on June 12th, something Obama was obviously in no position to accept.

Today, NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg (who is having a lot of trouble staying away from this presidential campaign) complicated the picture for the Obama campaign by offering to host the first joint town hall meeting at Manhattan's Federal Hall. This ups the pressure on Obama to accept, and Republicans are likely to portray any delay as stalling. But it is unclear whether the Democrat is looking for a way out of this. In fact, all signs point to the fact that both parties think holding joint town halls would favor them -- making those atypical events a very real possibility!

On the one hand, Republicans are at a financial disadvantage and would relish the free media and equal exposure that joint town hall meetings would guarantee; McCain also believes that common appearances would be an opportunity for him to showcase his expertise and contrast himself with his opponent's alleged inexperience. On the other hand, Democrats seem convinced that any joint appearance would serve to highlight McCain's old age and that any opportunity for Obama to showcase his mastery of policy and go toe-to-toe with John McCain will serve him greatly, undermining the GOP's attacks on his readiness.

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  • My impression was that both the Obama and McCain campaigns rejected Bloomberg's offer. Or did Bloomberg counter-offer?

    By Blogger Stephen, At 08 June, 2008 23:06  

  • Yeah Stephen, both Obama and McCain rejected the Bloomberg and ABC offer because they said it was unfair for only a single news network to be able to broadcast the meeting: Obama and especially McCain want it to be as open and informal as possible that means putting it on public televioion where any network could cover it live.

    On the very idea of these townhalls, I think that they would be a good idea. Obama is not was weak in townhall meeting as McCain is in prepared speeches, and Obama could very well end up benefiting more from these meeting depending on what questions are asked and how they are conducted. I do think that 10 town halls is excessive: Obama needs to work on getting the Democratic party together and attracting swing voters and he can't do that if he's doing a joint town hall meeting every week, but maybe three of them would be resonable. McCain seems to be very desperate over these townhall meetings and Obama shouldn't give in to all of this demands, but compromise. Having on on June 12 is way too soon in my opinion.

    By Anonymous jaxx raxor, At 09 June, 2008 07:57  

  • These town hall meetings may be to Obama's advantage in that McCain has been prone recently to making verbal gaffes and Obama rarely does. Obama's speech is very deliberate; some might say halting; but his statements are always well thought out. He comes across as cool and unflappable.
    McCain speaks quickly and often says things that can't be backed up by facts or reality; some would say senior moment. He appears defensive, combative and sarcastic with his opponents. He comes across as hot and agitated.
    The age comparison will also be evident. It's no accident the new McCain ad shows him lit only from the right.

    By Anonymous fritz, At 09 June, 2008 08:26  

  • I think the town hall meetings would benefit Obama more than McCain. Obama is not as well known as McCain. McCain has been on the national scene since he ran in 2000 (and even longer as a Senator from Arizona). Obama was first heard of (on a national level) at the Democratic National Convention in 2004. I am guilty of not giving Obama enough credit because I thought he was a shoo-in for Senator that year, not because of his great ability, but instead of his opponent's weaknesses as a social-wack conservative.

    I think Obama will now win all the states that Kerry won (even NH, WI and MI) and also carry Ohio, Iowa, Missouri, Colorado, and New Mexico. I also believe that he has a solid chance of carrying Virginia, North Carolina, North Dakota, and Nevada. I also expect a lot of states to be very close, especially Texas. I doubt he will win Texas, but I think he will get the margin down to around 6%.

    By Anonymous Jim W, At 09 June, 2008 09:37  

  • I think exposing McCain to prolonged media coverage is about the best thing Obama could do. McCain is practically a gaffe-machine, and eventualy hopefully the pile-up of ignorance or error will do what the few damning instances thus far haven't--finally do away with the idea that McCain understands the Middle East. A guy who confuses Sunni and Shia, doesn't know who the leader of Iran is, and thinks General Petraeus roams Baghdad in an unarmed Humvee should not be trusted like McCain is trusted on national security.

    By Blogger Stephen, At 09 June, 2008 11:48  

  • Fritz is correct in pointing out McCain's general irritability, to which you can add the fact that he dislikes Obama, who gets under his skin.

    Still, one of Obama's weaknesses is that he appears particularly hesitant in responding to unanticipated attacks - I'm thinking of his poor performance in the last debate. He has the academic's tendency to argue a provocative question head on, and at some length, rather than to slide away with a quick riposte and turn the discussion to his benefit. Clinton was particularly good at that.

    At those moments, his body language isn't good, either - he both looks and sounds defensive. You can write the McCain ads right now about how Barack is too green and too soft to deal with the Ahmadinejads and Putins, with clips of Barack stumbling and searching for a response. The GOP is bound to load McCain with comments and questions that they believe will put Obama on the defensive, and I assume that the Obama campaign would anticipate that.

    As for NYC, my understanding is that both campaigns have rejected that particular arrangement with a network moderator, but not necessarily the venue.


    Good for them. We've all had enough of TV personalities injecting themselves into the various campaigns. If this idea has any value, it lies in minimizing any interface between the candidates and maximizing their direct interaction.

    By Anonymous zoot, At 09 June, 2008 12:23  

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