It may not have risen to the level of a Patrick Swayze Road-House-esque brawl, but the Obama folks are punching back.
Faced with declining polls and criticism by Democratic strategists that the Obama team isn't being tough enough, a new round of harder-hitting ads have been released to counter the McCain attacks.
One of the ads, titled "Fix the Economy," shows clips of John McCain discussing the economy in positive terms interspersed with average Americans expressing their concerns, doubts and fears of the current state of economic affairs.
The idea is to communicate that McCain is out of touch with average middle-class Americans. Of course, Mr. McCain didn't help his own cause when asked by pastor Rick Warren on Saturday to define what income level in America constitutes being rich.
"I think if you're just talking about income, how about five million," McCain said. Almost immediately after that statement, however, he did recognize he stepped in it and predicted his statement would get plenty of use by his opponent. He was right.
Townhall gone bad?
Regardless, watching the ad is one thing. Reading the text is another. It almost reads like McCain and average voters were having a townhall meeting gone really, really bad:
McCain: I don't think we're heading into a recession.
Average voter: I think we are absolutely in a recession.
Average voter 2: I sometimes struggle just to get the essentials, you know the milk the bread the eggs.
McCain: There's been great progress economically.
Average voter 3: The economy is in a rut.
McCain: We've had a pretty good prosperous time with low unemployment
Average voter 4: The way the economy is, is the bleakest of times
Average voter 5: I'm worried. I'm really worried.
If this was an actual conversation that McCain had with voters, then turn out the lights. So the ad-makers did the next best thing: present it as such, as a contrast between McCain and the American citizen.
The issue with the ad, of course, is that the McCain remarks are taken out of context. The Annenberg Political Fact Check, a non-profit, non-partisan organization who say their mission is to "reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics", weighed in on the spot and said the Obama ad-machine 'cherry-picked' McCain's quotes:
Sen. Barack Obama's campaign is running an ad in Indiana that tries to paint Sen. John McCain as being out of touch with Americans' concerns about the economy. It contrasts remarks from McCain with comments from residents of Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio. Obama's ad, however, used dated remarks from McCain and takes his words out of context.
They just can't help it...
"It's in the DNA of politicians in any democratic system to bend the fact, sometimes beyond the breaking point, when they are seeking office," Jackson said. "This is not to say that we should disregard everything they say, it's just that voters need to be grown-ups, and realize that candidates aren't like teachers holding public-policy seminars, they are like lawyers arguing their own case. It's up to us voters to sort through the spin and decide which can govern better."
Don't worry, be negative...
Should a campaign spend any time at all on positive advertising? Madison Powers, a senior research scholar at the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University, in a column for Congressional Quarterly yesterday said why bother?
It is not only the case that negative campaigns work. It has become less clear that positive ones are a good investment or even remotely necessary. Maybe the McCain campaign is smart not to try to accentuate the positive. So many lemons, so little lemonade.