In the next issue of TIME magazine, out tomorrow, reporter Michael Scherer reveals -- though this is not exactly a shocker by now -- that John McCain is ready to "play rough" to win in November.
In the article (not yet online), Scherer writes, "The new McCain is tight and focused. The candidate who once invited all comers onto the back of his bus now hangs a curtain on his campaign plane to prevent reporters from even catching a glimpse. Instead of charm and candor, he serves up fastballs. Instead of risk-taking, he seeks control. It's a whole new McCain ... Despite his backslapping reputation, McCain will play rough if he thinks it will help him win."
A full-page illustration shows McCain throwing fastballs from a pitchers' mound. TIME, keeping with the baseball theme, calls the new tactic "hardball" and "throwing heat."
Scherer notes: "Gone are McCain's daily promises to conduct a 'respectful campaign.'" Now the McCain team has decided to "go for broke." Many may disagree, however, with Scherer's claim that McCain has kept the attacks so far "light and funny."
Mark Salter, one of McCain's top, adds, "We were letting the press [get] in our heads ... [Now] we're going to say what the message is."
Meanwhile, in this week's column (also not on the Web), Joe Klein urges Barack Obama to call McCain's bluff and accept the challenge of town hall debates. Obama, he observes, "needs to move the conversation toward the substantive differences he has with McCain--and the differences McCain doesn't have with [President] Bush. The best way to do that is through a major, narrative-changing event ... Obama would be wise to change course now: challenge McCain to town-hall debates on the Sunday nights after each convention--one before a military audience, another with hard-pressed Rust Belt workers. He'd be wise to make this a campaign about issues instead of ads as soon as possible. It is true that debates often turn on one-liners and flubs, but more often they turn on sustained, vivid demonstrations of character."
The new TIME poll finds Obama in front overall 46%-41% but with some startlingly wide specific edges for him: more likable by 65% to 20%, as candidate for change by 61% to 17%, and
Obama beats McCain 48% to 35% on who understands voters' concerns best.
Greg Mitchell's new book is So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits -- and the President -- Failed on Iraq. He is editor of Editor & Publisher.