06/11/2008 11:37 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

McCain TV Starts: Vulnerability Wrapped In A Message Of Strength

And they're off. While Barack Obama tours swing states, John McCain advertises in swing states, launching the first TV ad of the general election campaign. It's an acknowledgment of vulnerability wrapped in a message of strength.

While Obama plays the economy card -- not surprisingly, given record oil and gasoline prices, rising food prices, rising unemployment, and falling housing values -- McCain plays the security card. With an ad called "Safe" that seeks to remind viewers who this famous man is. Which is intriguing. The ad implicitly acknowledges that his actual background may not be as well known as we think.

And with Obama jumping on a McCain comment on this morning's Today Show that it's "not too important" when US troops leave Iraq, the ad may play further into the unpopularity of the Iraq War.

McCain senior advisor Steve Schmidt tells me that the ad is airing in 54 broadcast TV markets in key swing states, a more than $3 million buy. Where exactly is it airing? Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Iowa, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Missouri. Another million or so is being spent on cable TV, where the ad will run on Fox News, CNN, Lifetime, The Learning Channel, and the Discovery Channel.

Barack Obama isn't running any TV ads. Right now.

Here's the ad's text. You can view it above.

Only a fool or a fraud talks tough or romantically about war.When I was five years old, my father left for war. My grandfather came home from war and died the next day.

I was shot down over Vietnam and spent five years as a POW. Some of the friends I served with never came home.

I hate war. And I know how terrible its costs are.

I'm running for President to keep the country I love safe. I'm John McCain and I approve this message.

What's interesting and frankly rather curious is that McCain is starting out by playing a hole card, his status as the war hero son and grandson of war heroes. And doing so at a time in which voters are much more concerned about the threat to their economic security than their physical security.

The spot is suffused with imagery of suffering and sacrifice, with dark overtones and sad string music. McCain speaks to camera for the entire 30 seconds, convincingly intoning his message.

McCain himself is starkly lit. His face is literally half in the light, and half in darkness. The close of the ad holds for four seconds on a close-up of McCain in profile.

Straight on, McCain's face can appear rather cherubic. The profile shot in the spot, however, makes him look craggy, presenting him as someone with hard-won experience and wisdom.

This is effective advertising. For 2004. For 2008? That's another matter.

While Americans don't want to lose in Iraq, most voters are simply sick of the effort there. 63% say they want US troops out of Iraq within two years. And McCain said this morning on the Today Show that withdrawing troops is "not too important," and that cutting down on casualties is the key.

The positioning seems almost defensive. It's as if McCain is seeking to define himself -- in ways in which most observers would think he is already defined -- in these swing states in order to hang on to voters he already has. Perhaps in anticipation of a coming barrage from Obama.

While impressively rendered, this opening advertising salvo of the McCain campaign does little to address the new political environment in which it finds itself.