Preempting Barack Obama's remarks tonight, the McCain campaign sent out a statement highlighting the fact that the Illinois Democrat had, on many occasions, voted in line with President Bush.
"We noticed a reference in Obama's prepared remarks for tonight to John McCain voting 95 percent of time supporting President Bush," wrote spokesman Brian Rogers. "What Obama doesn't say is that by that same rating, Obama voted to support President Bush between 40 and 50 percent of the time over the past two years," according to a Congressional Quarterly study.
It's a bizarre argument to make. In part because, throughout the campaign and, indeed, just hours earlier, McCain and his surrogates have been ringing Obama for being a doctrinaire liberal.
In reference to a National Journal study that rated Obama the Senate's most liberal member, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said on Tuesday, "That is really tough to do when you consider the states in these countries."
In February, McCain himself declared: "It's not an accident [Sen. Barack Obama] has, I think, according to the National Journal, the most liberal voting record in the United States Senate. I have one of the most conservative." (The National Journal ratings, it should be noted, did not include McCain because he "did not vote frequently enough in 2007 to draw a composite score.")
So the question arises: Is Obama a strict-ideological liberal who toes party line? Or is he hypocritically accusing McCain of supporting Bush too often, even as he supports the president on occasion?
Rogers, in his email, provides what could be the campaign's answer: the two aren't mutually exclusive.
"A far better measure of bipartisan leadership is clearly a senator's party unity rating. By that measure, it's clear that Senator Obama has been a consistent partisan, voting with his party over 95 percent of the time, while John McCain has a demonstrated independent record, voting with his party between 70 and 90 percent of the time in recent years."
But such reasoning is equally confusing. After all, if Obama is the most liberal member of the Senate and simultaneously voting 40-50 percent with the president, that means that, on occasion, Bush has taken liberal stances. And since McCain, according to the same survey Rogers forwarded, votes 90 percent of the time with the president, would it then be fair to assume that the Arizona Republican is, himself, the occasional progressive?
Confused? Probably. Because when it comes to understanding a candidate's ideological tilt, it is impossible to do so simply through a voter survey.