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"We've got them just where we want them." With each bit of bad news for his presidential campaign, that's the refrain one hears from John McCain. This week brought so much bad news as to turn the wishful-thinking chorus into the sort of frantic chant one might expect from someone curled up in a corner, hugging his own knees.

The week's run of bad McCain luck opened on Sunday with Colin Powell's endorsement of Barack Obama, ran through to revelations of a clothing allowance for vice presidential fashion plate Sarah Palin and family for a price that could buy a decent house in Alaska these days, and a recording of McCain's own brother cursing out a 911 operator when she challenged him for calling emergency services to complain about heavy traffic. Then there was Palin's expansive notion of the office of the vice president as she explained it to a third-grader. And we haven't even touched on the revelations of all sorts of hijinx by those McCain supporters who struggle with the notion of a President Obama more for matters of race and/or his father's faith than anything else.

Left at that, one might say, "Pretty tough week there, maverick." But that was before the hoax -- the hoax that evoked nearly every racial stereotype of black men that has been used as the rationale for lynchings and injustice ever since slavery ended. And while you can't blame the McCain camp for the actions of a criminally unstable young woman, you can blame the campaign for accepting Ashley Todd's stinky story on face value, and even encouraging media outlets to run with it.

By now, you've no doubt heard the tale of a young McCain volunteer in Pittsburgh who claimed to have been brutalized by a very large black man who allegedly a) stole $60 from her at an ATM, b) sexually assaulted her and c) scratched the letter "B" into her face -- "B" for "Barack", only backwards. Like a mirror image of a "B" -- something that happen if one happened to be looking into a mirror, the better to scratch a "B" into one's own face.

By the time Ashley Todd recanted her story after police administered a polygraph, Peter Feldman, a spokesman for the McCain campaign in Pennsylvania, had flogged it for local media. Greg Sargent of TPM Election Central broke the story late Friday afternoon:

John McCain's Pennsylvania communications director told reporters in the state an incendiary version of the hoax story about the attack on a McCain volunteer well before the facts of the case were known or established -- and even told reporters outright that the "B" carved into the victim's cheek stood for "Barack," according to multiple sources familiar with the discussions.

On TAPPED, the group blog of The American Prospect, Dana Goldstein writes of a similar incident that occurred in Paris four years ago, this hoax built on news reports of very real anti-Semitic incidents that had plagued the city.

The Pennsylvania ground game

While Pittsburgh is no Paris, Pennsylvania has become one prism through which America is viewing its unease with its racial history. In a move that was probably not particularly helpful to Barack Obama, Rep. John Murtha (D-Penn.) described the western portion of his state as a pretty "racist place." Murtha's perception, however, is seen by some as the very reason that the McCain campaign, despite rather long odds revealed in polling, is concentrating resources in the Keystone state. The Prospect's Ezra Klein posits, thanks to a reader of a rival magazine, that the racial lure to Pennsylvania for McCain may actually be part of an Obama strategy to distract the Republican from states in which he is actually more competitive:

John McCain is mounting his final stand not in Colorado, a state Bush won in 2004, but in Pennsylvania, which Kerry won comfortably and where Obama has a double digit lead. Why? One answer is that he's still hung up on Obama's apparent weakness among Appalachian whites. He can't get over the weaknesses Clinton appeared to expose in the primary campaign, and is gambling that racism will overwhelm party affiliation and economic distress. Weird bet. But another possibility, suggested by a New Republic reader, is that the Obama campaign has successfully faked McCain out...

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom "Robo" Ridge is proving himself to be a class act, writes TAPPED's Sarah Posner:

Tom Ridge, the McCain-Palin campaign's national co-chair, is narrating robocalls that warn, in part, that "If the Democrats win complete control of government they will want to give traditional civil rights to terrorists and talk unconditionally to dictators and state sponsors of terror." That's the same Tom Ridge who presided over the Department of Homeland Security turning into a boondoggle for his lobbyist friends and their clients. Because he cares about keeping you safe from terrorists.

With friends like these

But all the robo-calling, high-profile Republican friends can hardly make up for those McCain lost, in a very public way, this week. It began, of course, with former Secretary of State Colin Powell's very public endorsement of Barack Obama on "Meet the Press" -- an appearance the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff used to condemn the racial, anti-Muslim and smears of socialism with which McCain and his supporters have sought to tar Obama.

Then came the surprise defection of Ken Adelman, the Reagan administraton Cold Warrior and foreign policy expert, as well as that of Charles Fried, the esteemed legal expert and Harvard professor, who actually defected from the McCain campaign.
Writes Steve Benen at the Washington Monthly's Political animal:

Fried is not only a respected lawyer and credible voice on judicial issues, he's been an advisor to the McCain campaign. And as of this week, he just couldn't go through with it. He'd seen what McCain had become, and he threw his support to Obama.

But look who's stuck by McCain. There's former Navy Secretary John Lehman, tapped to lead McCain's transition team (should one be required). David Corn of Mother Jones notes that Lehman "played an R-rated role in the Tailhook scandal," having participated in debauchery during at least one Tailhook convention. And William Grayson, who said he was cleared by the McCain campaign to serve as a surrogate for an event at which he declared, reports the the Marin Independent Journal (here via Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo):

"Let me assure you of this," Grayson said after the student presentation on foreign policy. "The next president, whether it is Senator Obama or John McCain, will go to war, and he will go to war with Iran.

At this point, one would think McCain might wish to be delivered of his troublesome friends. Not to mention those gonzo supporters at his rallies, of whom he has said he is most proud.

Take, for instance, Tito the Builder -- please. You really have to watch the video produced by Tay Wiles and Jonathan Stein of Mother Jones, and featuring MJ Washington bureau chief Corn mixing it up with McCainiacs at a rally in Virginia.

Davin Hutchins of the American News Project brings footage of another Virginia McCain rally at which a Muslim McCain supporter confronted enthusiasts of the Hate Talk Express:

At a John McCain rally in Woodbridge, Virginia, three people handed out "Obama for Change" bumper stickers with the Communist sickle and hammer and the Islamic crescent, saying Obama was a socialist with ties to radical Islam. Several moderate McCain supporters, Muslim and Christian alike, struck back - relentlessly bombarding the group distributing the flyers until they left the premises.

Then there's this through-the-windshield pic from Florida, which Afro-Netizen's Chris Rabb describes as a "disturbing photographic image of the psyche of a small enough subset of the mystical White American 'undecided' voting population..."

In case you can't read the writing on the back of the t-shirt of the White motorcyclist pictured below, it reads:

"Nigger Please!! It's a WHITE house"

(Notice the McCain-Palin bumpersticker below his tail light.)

What, with all the issues with those eccentric volunteers and defecting respectable types, the McCain camp, discovered Sam Mayfield of The Uptake, apparently figured to save itself some trouble by buying a few friends, called "volunteers" by McCain spokespeople, but who turn out to be paid workers employed by a temp agency. Interesting, if not a huge deal. But the deal looked a little bigger once a McCain staffer threatened to have Mayfield arrested if she didn't leave campaign property.

Rolling the vote

Below, three examples of why you want to read Yes! magazine's Checklist for a Fair Election: 12 Ways to Safeguard Your Vote.

Salon's Mike Madden writes of trouble in Florida's early voting and wonders if it's a harbinger of recounts to come:

[A] combination of heavy turnout and widespread confusion over new I.D. laws at the polling places could overwhelm the system again. "I don't believe that anybody's going to be ready for the onslaught of voters," said Roger Weeden, an Orlando lawyer who's working with Election Protection, a national coalition of civil rights and public interest groups that will monitor problems with voting around the country through Nov. 4. The new law -- known as "no match, no vote" -- says you need identification at the polls, and your driver's license I.D. number or Social Security number must match what's in state or federal databases; if the data's wrong, you have to either cast a provisional ballot or fix the mistake.

The Nation features an in-depth look, by Peter Dreier and John Atlas, at the Republican campaign against ACORN; truly a must-read:

For months, the right-wing echo chamber--bloggers, columnists, editorial writers and TV and radio talk-show hosts--has pitched in with a well-orchestrated campaign to blame the mortgage crisis on ACORN and the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), the 1977 anti-redlining law. In a September 27 editorial, the Wall Street Journal wrote that "ACORN has promoted laws like the Community Reinvestment Act, which laid the foundation for the house of cards built out of subprime loans" and then falsely claimed the bailout bill would create a trust fund "pipeline" to fill ACORN's coffers.

Adam Serwer of TAPPED is following a troubling tale of possible voter suppression in New Mexico:

On Wednesday, a man named Al Romero showed up at Dora Escobedo's house, demanding to see, among other things, proof of voter registration and citizenship. Escobedo, who is Mexican-American, became a citizen last Spring. "He showed up with a copy of her voter registration card he was pointing to the paper and telling her he was an investigator, and told her to let him in. He said he just wanted to make sure he was a legitimate voter," says [Escobedo's daughter].

Palinpalooza

It's been such a big week for the big guy on the ticket that we barely have space to share the wonders wrought by the vice presidential pick this week. Suffice it to say that the Republican National Committee (even as McCain's campaign struggled to find advertising dollars) spent a whole lotta dough spiffying up the Palin crew with duds from Saks Fith Avenue and Nieman Marcus -- not exactly the Wasilla dry goods store. The Nation's John Nichols writes of Sartorial-Flaregate. The Washington Independent has Laura McGann writing from Anchorage of the bemusement felt by the locals for the reinvention of their leader:

In talking with voters around Alaska, from Anchorage shopkeepers to government employees, as well as lawmakers and political insiders over the last three weeks, it's clear that Palin has been re-branded, both in message and style, for the national arena. Critics and supporters agree that they see a change.

Recent news coverage of Palin demonstrates that she didn't reinvent herself, but that members of the McCain campaign shaped her...Even her new sleek, pulled-together look was taken care of by McCain adviser Jeff Larson. Larson is also in charge of the campaign's robocalls.

If you're looking to be simultaneously appalled and entertained, the good folks at AlterNet have complied a list of some of Palin's more amusing musings.

A big Dunn on the religious right -- Charles Dunn of Regent University, that is -- this week anointed Palin "the 'heir apparent' to lead the conservative movement and the Republican Party, even if Barack Obama wins the White House," writes The American Prospect's Sarah Posner. "Dunn predicts we'll be saying goodnight to Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee in 2012," Posner says:

Charles Dunn, dean of the Robertson (as in Pat) School of Government at Regent University in Virginia Beach, tells the American Family Association's news service that Sarah Palin is the "heir apparent" to lead the conservative movement and the Republican Party, even if Barack Obama wins the White House. Dunn predicts we'll be saying goodnight to Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee in 2012.

James Ridgeway of Mother Jones paid a visit to Dobson country:

Colorado Springs is what Sarah Palin would call one of the "pro-American areas of the nation." This mile-high city in the shadow of Pike's Peak is home to several key military sites, including the US Air Force Academy and North American Aerospace Defense Command's operations center. And with its huge concentration of conservative Christian megachurches and organizations, it's become known as the "Evangelical Vatican." The latter element was recently out in force during a Sarah Palin rally and a National Day of Prayer Summit hosted by James Dobson's Focus on the Family. The summit was timed to take place "just days before our national and local elections" because, its organizers say, "as we look over our country, we see a land in need of the Savior, Jesus Christ," and they want the faithful to "pray and intercede with fellow believers for this critical hour in which we live."

One can't help but wonder though, how Palin's remarks about Muslims will play with that crowd. American News Project's Davin Hutchins asked Palin to respond to the anti-Muslim antics of the McCain supporters he videoed in Virgina:

Amid a growing distrust among her conservative Christian supporters of anything Islamic, Sarah Palin goes on record stating emphatically that Republicans and the McCain-Palin ticket welcome all Muslims, adding "it is not acceptable in my book" to discriminate on the basis of religion. Her message of tolerance comes amid a growing tide of Islamophobia at McCain-Palin presidential rallies in Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio. How Christian fundamentalists interpret her remarks in the last days of the campaign is anyone's guess.

But Muslims who are immigrants might be in for a tougher time. La Opinión political editor Pilar Marrero writes about first Palin's interview with the Spanish-language media, in which, says Marrero, "she answered questions about immigration for the first time."

Her answers were very cautious and were designed, like those of McCain, to take a middle road that leaves their specific immigration reform policy unclear.

Palin told Univision's Jorge Ramos that it would be impossible to deport 12 million undocumented immigrants, saying that "not only economically is that just an impossibility but that's not a humane way anyway to deal with the issue that we face with illegal immigration."

Asked whether she would support an "amnesty," she said, "Not total amnesty. You know, people have got to follow the rules."

Among the more overlooked moments of Palin parlance this week was her answer to a question posed by "NBC Nightly News" anchor Brian Williams about how one defines terrorism. Is an abortion clinic bomber a terrorist, Williams asked. Palin called their actions "unacceptable," she added, "I don't know if you're gonna use the word 'terrorist' there."

Scott Swenson of RH Reality Check writes:

Palin said she wouldn't condone such actions and ultimately worked her way to saying that "terrorist" would be defined as anyone who seeks to destroy innocent Americans, meaning that she seems to agree that abortion clinic bombers are terrorists. McCain felt the need to to clean up the answer later in the interview saying that anyone who breaks the law, including bombing an abortion clinic, should be punished to the full extent of the law.

Issues!

If, in the course of following the mudslinging and you find yourself yearning for information about the candidates' actual positions on actual issues, check out AlterNet's superb voter guides.

And, should you still wonder what's in John McCain's medical records that he doesn't want you to know about, netroots band Max and the Marginalized, together with animator Max Walker (a different Max) have some ideas, as conveyed in this music video from Brave New Films.

--Adele M. Stan

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting
about John McCain. Visit JohnMcCain.NewsLadder.net
for a complete list of articles on McCain. And for the best progressive reporting on two
critical issues, check out Immigration.NewsLadder.net and Healthcare.NewsLadder.net.

JohnMcCain.NewsLadder.net is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of 50 leading independent media outlets, and created by NewsLadder. Adele M. Stan is executive editor of The Media Consortium's syndicated reporting project.