That's what he had to do yesterday. More than once.
State of the campaign
There's plenty of criticism that McCain brought this on himself because of his campaign's tenor over the last two weeks. Then there are others who believe that questions about Obama's past dealings with questionable characters are legitimate questions that need to be asked.
Still yet others believe that this is the sole remaining card McCain has. The backdrop of an imploding economy is at every campaign stop -- Republican or Democrat. Unfortunately, for McCain, the GOP is getting the lion's share of the blame. So a strategy of questioning who Barack Obama is may be all he's got left.
But if going down that road encourages some supporters to yell out "terrorist" or "off with his head" when Obama's name is mentioned, McCain's got another problem -- attracting instead of repelling those moderate undecideds.
Yesterday, a woman at a rally in Minnesota announced she didn't trust Obama because "he's an Arab."
"No, ma'am, no ma'am," McCain countered. "He's a decent, family man, a citizen I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that's what this campaign is all about."
Another supporter said he and his wife were "scared" of raising their child under Obama presidency.
"I want to be president of the United States and I obviously I do not want Senator Obama to be," McCain said. "But I have to tell you, I have to tell you, he is a decent person. And a person that you do not have to be scared of as president of the United States."
Obama supporters are more than happy to help portray McCain followers as extreme.
"I’ve been doing blog video for a while, and presidential rallies a lot longer. And this is the most strange, ignorant, uninformed, angry, up-to-no-good, and gullible group of people I’ve ever seen at a political rally."
Sure, if you look into his background you'll see that he's decisively partisan. Even the New York Times said his "questioning is clearly aimed at putting his subjects on the defensive." He knew what he was going after when he went there. He's no friend of the McCain-Palin ticket.
Regardless, the YouTube video was the third-most watched on the video sharing website Friday. At the time of this writing it had been viewed nearly 1 million times. As the Times mentions, viewership appears to break down along partisan lines as well. (This would be difficult to calculate, however. Perhaps, a more accurate way of putting it would be that the comments seem to break down down along partisan lines.)
A videographer could do the same thing at an Obama-Biden rally. If you come in with an agenda, you can create what you want to create.
But when your candidate is leading, you don't go into a rally upset. You're feeling pretty good. So it might be tougher to find the outliers.
It wasn't just yesterday. Earlier this week, on two separate occasions, introductory speakers decided that by adding Barack Obama’s middle name (Hussein) to their respective remarks, they would help the campaign out. This, despite the fact that John McCain as early as February denounced the tactic, and has told supporters to knock it off.
So, instead of the McCain message getting out, the McCain “we don’t condone these remarks” message got out. The story reported was “Guess what the McCain people said today?”
So despite the call from many GOP strategists that McCain needs to get angry and he needs to tap in to the anger of the American people, it is a strategy that is full of risks.
He's got to keep fighting but can't afford more rallies that produce incendiary sound bites. He said it all yesterday.
"We want to fight and I will fight," he said at the rally. "But we will be respectful. I admire Sen. Obama and his accomplishments. I will respect him."
McCain supporters have to follow suit. The first test will come today at a rally in Davenport, Iowa