It's a war of words. Whether it is Sarah Palin's overuse of the word "maverick," John McCain's anguish-inducing repetition of "my friends," or the gaffe-laden potpourri emanating from Joe Biden, the words candidates say are always under the microscope.
Surrogates and supporters do best when they act like parrots – mimicking talking points rather than expressing a thought of their own. And actually, that's fair. You don't vote for spokespeople. You vote for the candidate.
Where'd they go?
Not everyone gets the memo.
When a spokesperson or a surrogate freelances, they head into deep water. Some are never to be seen again.
Carly Fiorina, of the infamous "Palin is not qualified to run a business" remark only to be outdone by her "McCain is not qualified to run a business" statement, currently resides with sleestaks in the Land of the Lost.
And what seems like millennia ago now, when General Wesley Clark was auditioning for vice president back in early August he decided to overly challenge John McCain's military record. He's now pretty much living in political outer space.
But how are people supposed to know what is off-limits and what is OK to say if they aren't paying attention to the political news every day?
First, if they are chosen to speak at a rally to introduce a candidate for president or vice president, chances are they're paying attention. These people are rabid political junkies.
Second, the campaigns brief speakers ahead of time as to what's acceptable.
Despite this, a campaign can't control everything.
Take Lehigh County Pennsylvania's Republican Party chair William Platt or Florida's Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott. Both men served as speakers to warm up the crowd before John McCain or Sarah Palin came on stage.
Although their remarks were quite different, there was a commonality between them that is causing the McCain team a lot of heartburn. Because that commonality takes away from anything meaningful that might be said at the event and focuses attention on their remarks.
(That is assuming that meaningful things are said at rallies.)
The commonality? The "H" word. As in Barack Obama's middle name. Hussein. It's something you just don't say. It's probably the second most disliked word in the entire McCain campaign (second to "poll").
But the mention of Barack's middle name is dicey. Usage could link the Democratic candidate to Islam (he's a Christian) or the reviled former dictator of Iraq.
Because of the implications, the "H" word is like touching the third rail.
But that didn't stop Platt yesterday from saying it and repeating it.
"Think about how you'll feel on November 5 if you wake up in the morning and see the news, that Barack Obama – that Barack Hussein Obama – is the president-elect of the United States," Platt asked the crowd.
"The number one most liberal senator in the United States of America was, you guessed it, the ambassador of change, Barack Hussein Obama," he said. "This election is about preserving America's past and protecting the promise of its future."
As they've done in the past, the McCain campaign reacts quickly to the "H" word.
"We do not condone this inappropriate rhetoric, which distracts from the real questions of judgment, character and experience that voters will base their decisions on this November," said McCain spokesman Paul Lindsay.
Pre deja vu
The Republican team had to deal with it earlier this week as well. This time coming from the fiery Sheriff of Lee County.
"There are three types of people in our country today," Sheriff Scott explained to the crowd. "There are people that make things happen, there are people that watch things, and there are people who wonder what happened. On November 4, let's leave Barack Hussein Obama wondering what happened."
I ain't done nothin' wrong
The crowd ate it up. And the McCain campaign had to put out their statement disavowing it. But as the Fort Myers press later reported, the Sheriff has dug in his heels.
“I absolutely, unequivocally don’t regret saying it,” Scott said. “In order to be a speaker at this event, I had to give my full name — Michael Joseph Scott — to the Secret Service, even though I’m the sheriff of Lee County. So why would I apologize? Is there some kind of double standard here where I have to give my full name, but I can’t use his?”