07/15/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

RNC Rolls Out First Contrast Ad

News broke Thursday that the RNC was preparing to air its first contrast ad of the general election in four battleground states: Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. The $3 million buy was a first jab at the Democratic Party, a signal of the buying power of the wealthy RNC. Sunday, we got our first glimpse of the ad. As expected, it focuses on energy issues:

The ad advances two related themes that will be at the core of the McCain campaign in the coming months:

  1. McCain is presented as moderate, not beholden to his party’s conservative wing, putting distance between McCain and Bush without having to say as much. Indeed, it is remarkable and speaks to a vast cultural swing in the last two years, that an ad paid for by the RNC praises McCain for “pushing” the party to recognize the reality of global warming. McCain is depicted as a realist, as opposed to Obama , who is attacked as reflexively liberal and beholden to the “environmental lobby.” The ad accuses him of voting party-line 97 percent of the time.
  2. McCain is praised as a pragmatist who offers concrete solutions that are in tune with science, whereas Obama is described as an ideologue too busy vetoing sensible solutions for the sake of ideological/environmental commitments (”no to nuclear power” and to the gas tax) to propose his own plans.

The ad makes clear that the GOP sees energy as a winning issue for McCain. Hillary Clinton failed to win significant numbers in hitting Obama with the gas tax holiday in April, but the GOP clearly thinks McCain can be portrayed as proactive and flexible on the issue. It is also an issue with which to distance McCain from Bush, presenting the presumptive nominee as a moderate without angering the conservative base. In the wake of the Bush years, simply making clear recognition of global warming as a starting-point position seems forward thinking, the approach of a problem solver.

A second ad was also released Sunday by an independent pro-Iraq war group, Vets for Freedom. It features veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan or family members who insist the surge is working and that it is important to "finish the job."

While the ad never mentions Obama or McCain, the aim is clearly to move public opinion toward the Republican position. The surge is associated with McCain, after all, and the ad makes the case for McCain without him having to push it: stay the course and stop talking of withdrawal.

Of course, the danger for the GOP is speaking of the enormously unpopular war at all, reminding voters that McCain is not looking to end it, that on the contrary he is committed to continuing it indefinitely, until "victory" is achieved, something fewer and fewer Americans believe is possible. Iraq is indeed precisely the subject Democrats have long been preparing to use against the Republican nominee, the party's efforts boosted by McCain's careless soundbites. However many veterans Republicans put on the screen and however much public opinion comes to scale back its approval of withdrawal, McCain will have to defend himself against the perception of hawkishness on Iraq and the Middle East in general.

The ad will run in Ohio, New Mexico and Virginia for $1 million, an interesting slate of states that confirms that Ohio is shaping up once again to be ground zero for the presidential election (despite Obama’s attempts to move the election’s epicenter elsewhere) and that some Republicans are coming around to recognize the key role Virginia may well play this year.

Read more at Daniel Nichanian's blog, Campaign Diaries.