Honoring the pre-debate tradition, Barack Obama's campaign is out with a memo on Wednesday raising the expectations for John McCain to ungodly heights. But in addition to setting the stage for tonight's affair, the Illinois Democrat did something peculiar: he allowed a peek into internal strategy.
Spokesman Bill Burton lays out -- in no small measure -- how he believes the debate will proceed.
"Just this weekend, John McCain vowed to 'whip Obama's you-know-what' at the debate," he writes, "and he's indicated that he'll use Bill Ayers to attack Barack Obama... Senator Obama is going to use the debate to discuss his plan for the economy. That's what he's been doing this entire campaign."
Such a prediction may appear, at once, over-simplistic and optimistic. But the Obama campaign has seemingly been engineering this scenario for the past week. Indeed, if John McCain brings up Ayers in tonight it may be because he was goaded into doing so.
Following the candidate's second debate, both Obama and Joe Biden chided the Republican nominee for not making the personal character attacks he made on the stump to Obama's face. Since then, however, polling data has shown voters recoiling from McCain's use of Bill Ayers in political attacks. The Arizona Republican is left in a quandary: don't bring up the former '60s radical and risk being seen as squirmy and afraid; or bring him up and get bashed by Obama for not talking about the economy.
As Burton writes: "But after two debates in which John McCain didn't mention the middle class once -- and after his campaign declared openly that they want to turn the page on talking about the economy -- the real question is not how many attacks McCain can land in the debate, but whether he can finally communicate a vision to turn this economy around."
Here is the full memo:
In tonight's debate, Chuck Todd of NBC News says, McCain needs to "figure out how to disqualify Barack Obama." Time Magazine's Mark Halperin writes, "McCain will have to produce a major memorable moment." The NY Daily News says the debate is "do-or-die for McCain's campaign." However they put it, people agree, John McCain needs a game-changer.
On the big issues, this debate is one last chance for John McCain to do what he has failed to do throughout this entire campaign: explain to the American people how his economic policies would be any different at all than the failed Bush agenda he has supported every step of the way. It's his last chance to somehow convince the American people that his erratic response to this economic crisis doesn't disqualify him from being President.
Just this weekend, John McCain vowed to "whip Obama's you-know-what" at the debate, and he's indicated that he'll use Bill Ayers to attack Barack Obama. Even though Senator McCain has said he doesn't "give a damn" about Bill Ayers, his campaign has admitted that if he talks about the economy, he'll lose.
But perhaps the NY Times explained the peril of McCain's negative strategy best this morning when they wrote: After several weeks in which the McCain campaign unleashed a series of strong political attacks on Mr. Obama, trying to tie him to a former 1960s radical, among other things, the poll found that more voters see Mr. McCain as waging a negative campaign than Mr. Obama. Six in 10 voters surveyed said that Mr. McCain had spent more time attacking Mr. Obama than explaining what he would do as president; by about the same number, voters said Mr. Obama was spending more of his time explaining than attacking. [NYT/CBS Poll, NY Times 10/15/08]
Senator Obama is going to use the debate to discuss his plan for the economy. That's what he's been doing this entire campaign. And on Monday, he built on his proposals in a new Rescue Plan for the Middle Class. That's the kind of steady leadership and real change Americans are looking for - not John McCain's erratic handling of the crisis, his constant character attacks, and the same Bush policies that have failed us for eight years.
But after two debates in which John McCain didn't mention the middle class once -- and after his campaign declared openly that they want to turn the page on talking about the economy -- the real question is not how many attacks McCain can land in the debate, but whether he can finally communicate a vision to turn this economy around.
And while McCain has promised to attack Obama in the debate, every minute that he ignores the economy and the middle class is not just a minute wasted but time spent on attacks that even some of those closest to him have said don't work.