McCain seeks to shift race’s focus
Tuesday’s debate is a chance to regain campaign momentum.
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The goal is to shift attention away from America’s economic crisis and again raise questions about the Democrat’s readiness to lead as well as his associations in the past.
The opening salvo came over the weekend when Senator McCain’s running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin, attacked Senator Obama for “palling around with terrorists” because of a past association with William Ayers, a Chicago education professor. In the 1960s, Mr. Ayers was a member of the Weather Underground, which claimed responsibility for several bombing attacks.
The Obama camp called the comment “desperate, false, and offensive,” and it noted that the two men did know each other but that Obama has always condemned Ayers’s “detestable acts.”
The Democrats also say that McCain is simply trying to divert attention from the economic crisis, which has helped Obama take a lead in national polls as well as among independents and in some vital swing states that Republicans won in 2004.
“Obama has to keep the pressure on linking McCain to Bush on the economy, because that’s a twofer: It’s what’s driving his current lead and tipping the tossup states into his column,” says Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. “McCain has a much tougher job: He has to try to find a way to change the direction of the election in the remaining two debates. That’s very hard to do with words when the daily headlines scream ‘economic disaster.’ ”
This week, the McCain camp plans to run a series of advertisements that tie Obama not only to Ayers, but also to Antoin “Tony” Rezko, a Chicago financier and longtime Obama supporter who was convicted of money laundering earlier this year. He is scheduled to be sentenced a week before the election.
“McCain’s goal is to cause people to say, ‘No-bama,’ to reject Obama because that’s his only shot,” says Professor Sabato. “People are only going to go back to McCain if he’s the default candidate, if they’ve already rejected the ‘big change’ candidate.”
The Obama campaign is also staying on the offensive. On Sunday morning, it released an ad that accused McCain of being “erratic in a crisis” and “out of touch” by trying to “turn a page” on the economic crisis. It also called McCain’s attacks on Obama’s past associations “dishonorable, dishonest assaults.”
The Democrats also continued to hammer away at McCain’s healthcare proposal, which calls for health insurance tax credits of $2,500 for individuals and $5,000 for families. The Republicans would pay for it by taxing the health benefits that individuals now receive from their employers. Obama’s camp notes that it is the first time that health benefits would be taxed and calls the plan “radical change.”