AC360 Senior Producer
Presidential campaigns always get rough. But it’s an interesting moment when a former top advisor in both Republican and Democratic administrations, and a former campaign manager of one of the candidates, both criticize an attack ad by that candidate.
David Gergen, a senior advisor to presidents ranging from Nixon to Clinton, yesterday said McCain is using code words to paint Obama as “outside the mainstream” and “uppity.”
“There has been a very intentional effort to paint him as somebody outside the mainstream, other, ‘he’s not one of us,’” Gergen, an AC360 contributor, said on ABC’s This Week. “I think the McCain campaign has been scrupulous about not directly saying it, but it’s the subtext of this campaign. Everybody knows that…
“There are certain kinds of signals. As a native of the sourth, I can tell you, when you see this Charlton Heston ad, ‘The One,’ that’s code for, ‘he’s uppity, he ought to stay in his place.’ Everybody gets that who is from a southern background. We all understand that. When McCain comes out and starts talking about affirmative action, ‘I’m against quotas,’ we get what that’s about.”
On the same day, Mike Murphy, a GOP strategist who managed McCain's 2000 Republican primary campaign, said McCain's ad calling Obama "the biggest celebrity in the world" and comparing him to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton as "clumsy, juvenile, and a mistake."
"I think it was a dumb ad," Murphy said on Meet The Press. ""Not because it asked the question, 'is Barack Obama ready for the job?' That's a very legitimate criticism, and I think Barack Obama made it a little bit worse by his stumbling response later...
"The problem is that McCain, McCain's strategy has to hinge, in my view, on one thing: How does a Republican survive in October and November a huge anti-Republican vote?," Murphy said. "Luckily for the party, McCain is a different kind of Republican. So everything in the campaign ought to build toward that case. And when you get off into the small juvenile stuff about Britney Spears, I think you distract from that."
Paris Hilton's own mother even weighed in, calling the ad showing pictures of Obama, Hilton and Spears “a complete waste of the money John McCain’s contributors donated to his campaign.”
Kathy Hilton, with her husband, donated $4600 to McCain's campaign. But that ad, she wrote on the Huffington Post, was “a complete waste of the country’s time and attention when millions of people are losing their homes and their jobs. And it is a completely frivolous way to choose the next president of the United States.”
But does it work?
It’s certainly reminiscent of the aggressive one-upmanship played from high society to playgrounds the world over.
McCain had promised to avoid the kind of negative tactics that were used against him in the 2000 republican primary. But did McCain learn a valuable lesson in that campaign that he is putting to work today? And, will Obama have to learn that rough politics is sometimes the only politics that wins in this country, or be painted as a loser the way John Kerry was painted, and lose the way John Kerry did? (That “elistist” weapon has been so successful before.)
Not that the polls offer definitive answers, but the latest suggest rough politics is indeed a winning strategy.
The AP reports that in the Gallup Poll tracking survey, McCain appears to have eliminated Obama’s 9-point national lead since he started attacking Obama’s character, with the candidates running dead even.
CNN's own poll of polls, which includes Gallup and others, shows Obama's lead slipping from 6 points a week ago to 3 points today.
Why? Is it because voters like McCain’s energy plans more than Obama’s? How many people are clear on the specifics of their plans anyway?
McCain’s talking today about using more coal. And Obama unveils details of his new energy plan today.
Let’s see if either makes a different.
Anderson Cooper goes beyond the headlines to tell stories from many points of view, so you can make up your own mind about the news. Tune in weeknights at 8 and 10 ET on CNN.
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