It's not very often that I'll compliment John McCain, but his campaign's strategy over this now-infamous North Carolina GOP ad hitting Obama is one shrewd move.
Some pundits have caught on, but only half-way.
It's true that the damage has been done by the ad just being out there and run on networks which cover it (before it even airs on the paid airwaves, mind you), so McCain can afford to come out against the ad, as he has done so a few times.
But, there's a longer term game here, no matter who the nominee is for the Democrats.
If the nominee is Obama, then the ad from the North Carolina GOP did earlier damage to him and will be well-forwarded around the internet by the time the general election comes around. That helps McCain, of course.
But, McCain and his team obviously are hoping that it does enough damage in North Carolina to begin to knock Obama out of the race, so Hillary Clinton is the nominee. It's already been floated that McCain has called off the dogs when it comes to Hillary Clinton, because that's who he wants to face.
If he gets what he wants, this ad episode really helps him. Right now, McCain is viewed much more positively by voters than Hillary Clinton. She would go into a general election pretty well disliked, most intensely by those Obama supporters who became first-time Democratic voters just to vote for him, and may feel she ripped it away.
The first time Hillary Clinton launches an attack ad on McCain, guess what he's going to do? He will stand up and recall this episode - saying that he deplores this kind of slash-and-burn politics, and even stood up for Barack Obama when he was getting unfairly attacked, while Hillary Clinton stayed silent. He will lay his claim to the "new kind of politics" mantle that Obama supporters find so attractive, while solidifying the positive feelings the majority of voters have of him.
In doing so, he'll hope to peel away some disillusioned Obama supporters and independents who tend to hate attack politics. But, more importantly, he'll cause enough of them to not dislike him so much that they come out, hold their noses for Clinton just to stop him. They'll just stay at home, or so is the plan.
The irony, of course, is it is the most classic of 'old politics' - let someone else go on the attack, so you can look like the nice guy trying to stop it. But, he's playing it perfectly, and as a consultant, I have to give them a little golf clap.