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McCain Must Change Campaign Dynamic

July 21, 2008

By Tim Brugger

The American people do not want to elect John McCain President. His latest Intrade number, 31.1 to 65.9 for Obama, is probably the best indicator at this point of his chances this fall.

This is not a slap at McCain but instead merely reflects 2008 reality-national Republicans face the bleakest election since at least 1974, when the Watergate scandal took a heavy toll on the party. And the echo of that, you might call it the hangover, was the election of Jimmy Carter in 1976. Talk about bleak!

If McCain were running in 2000 it might be a different story, but he's not. He is facing a daunting headwind.

Fortunately, being a person that the public does not want to elect President is not a fatal political flaw. It did not prove fatal to President Bush in 2004, and Americans have elected people they did not want to elect on a number of occasions. It just means that you have to make the American public not want to elect the other guy even more.

For McCain, this means that he will have to switch to a highly negative campaign to win, and highlight the countless problems with Barack Obama. There is just no other way about it. In this climate, he cannot win merely by running a positive campaign telling the voters who John McCain is or what he will, or bashing Obama for refusing to engage in a series of Town Hall debates. McCain will be seen through an unfavorable lens simply because he is a Republican, and that will undermine him greatly in 2008.

Nor can McCain win by running away from George Bush. Even though McCain showed an excessive proclivity for differing with President Bush, running away from the man who most people identify strongly with your party and who you want to raise massive sums of money for you is a political non-starter. Besides, though McCain has been critical about details of the conduct of the Iraq war, for political purposes the President's position and McCain's are the same, and this is still a big drag on both men, despite recent successes.

The Democrats are using their devastating line about electing McCain to a third Bush term. But McCain should spend less time telling people he is not George Bush--people already know that but he will be tarred with Bush's unpopularity anyway--and more time telling people who Barack Obama is. And I'm not talking about lies, irrelevancies, or other unscrupulous campaign tactics--just good old fashioned, harsh but fair American-style attacks. As Steven Stark chronicled recently in an excellent piece in the Boston Phoenix, hard-hitting attack ads are as American as apple pie and Budweiser.

While he is unfortunate to be running at this time, he is fortunate to be running against a person who can easily be defined as a rabid leftist. But McCain must do the defining-certainly to the extent the media is defining Obama, it is as the second coming of John F. Kennedy. And Obama provides ripe opportunities almost every day. But McCain cannot simply sit back and let others do it, or even worse, criticize those who do his dirty work, as he has before.

McCain should not be boxed in completely by his previous request that the North Carolina Republican Party to stop running their anti-Obama ad featuring Reverend Wright. Subsequent to that, Obama declared that Reverend Wright was a "legitimate political issue." Obama may come to regret those words very much, because they make it difficult for him to push back against ads featuring Wright.

And McCain just has to accept the fallout of going big-time negative. Actually, the mainstream media and the rest of Team Obama will harshly criticize him for doing that anyway. He just has to pretend that he never asked the North Carolina GOP to pull their TV ad, start hitting Obama hard, and brace himself for the media fallout. It's the only way he can win

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