08/05/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

McCain's New Tactic: Savage Obama's Character

The Politico reports that, having tried unsuccessfully to paint Barack Obama as a liberal flip-flopper, John McCain is getting personal:

As Senator Barack Obama traveled overseas, the campaign against him appeared to take a decisive new turn with Senator John McCain zeroing in on his Democratic opponent's character.

In a year when polls show an easy victory for a generic Democratic candidate, McCain has until now been loathe to employ the tack many strategists see as essential and which anonymous e-mailers and commenters with no apparent links to his campaign have been practicing since last summer: hitting Obama not on his record or his platform, but on his values and person.

The Democrat's Achilles' heel in this model is an inchoate sense among some voters that the new arrival on the national stage with the unusual biography--and who's the first black nominee from either party--isn't American enough.


Whatever his motives, McCain's new hit on his foe's patriotism hints at two years of whispered, viral rumors and myths about Obama centered on his patriotism and American values, or, more to the point, his lack thereof. The emails --cataloged in snopes.com's lengthy Obama section and Obama's own "fight the smears" page --often have contradictory particulars, but the thrust is clear: Obama, various false emails claim, is not really a natural-born American citizen; is not really a Christian, and refuses to pledge allegiance to the American flag.

Not all Republicans think this is a good idea. Sen. Chuck Hagel said Sunday that McCain is on "thin ground," and the Washington Post quotes a strategist questioning the new tactics:

One GOP strategist with close ties to McCain's campaign said the new line of attack reflected the operation's "schizophrenic" nature. He said that tendency was also on display last week, as McCain spoke at length about media coverage of Obama rather than sticking with his plan to focus on the economy.

"They couldn't help themselves," the strategist said, adding that the ad over the hospital visit is "churlish and unlike McCain, and hardly will resonate with the swing voters who are going to decide this election." The strategist continued: "They're doing it because the candidate, and the campaign, is not happy with where they are and they're lashing out."

If McCain hopes to win the election, the strategist added, "he needs to be a happy warrior."

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