August 4th, 2008
08:45 AM ET

Morning Buzz: Attack… and win?

Barclay Palmer
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.

Filed under: Barclay Palmer • The Buzz
soundoff (31 Responses)
  1. Annie Kate

    I'm from the south and according to Gergen would have recognized the "code words" – but I didn't. So I'm not too impressed with this analysis – in fact I have been disappointed in what Gergin has had to say since he turned on Hillary.

    If you want to know the truth I don't like either candidate. McCain, while not the typical Republican, still represents enough of the GOP agenda that I cannot at this time vote for him. Obama is too liberal and is too full of himself, arrogant, elite, and presumptuous. He seems to react to everything but he very rarely is proactive. He kept his message very general in the primaries to get the nomination and now as he reveals some of what is behind some of those general plans I see changes I really don't like. And he still can't seem to close the deal – he can't grab onto a substantial lead and hold it. In some ways he reminds me of the Democratic version of George Bush.

    Like someone else said – its bad when Nader looks better than the mainstream candidates. I'm considering a write-in vote. I know it won't count for anything but I live in GOP heaven in Alabama so my vote isn't going to matter anyway under the winner take all policy of the electoral college so I may as well vote for who I wanted in the first place.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    August 4, 2008 at 9:34 pm |
  2. Jo Ann, North Royalton, Ohio

    I really could care less what David Gergen says. I lost respect for him the moment he called Hillary Clinton’s supporters “rednecks.”

    John McCain’s ad was right on the money that is why Obama's supporters are so upset about it. Obama is just like Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, they are both famous for accomplishing nothing.

    Just because someone is against affirmative action and quotas does not make him or her a racist.

    I guess all of you have conveniently forgotten that Obama was the first one to inject race into this election when he said this in NH in August of 2007:

    "I guarantee you African-American turnout, if I'm the nominee, goes up 30 percent around the country, minimum," he said.

    People are beginning to see that Bill Clinton was telling the truth about the race card being used by the Obama campaign. Obama always knew he had the race card in his back pocket if he needed to use it and his cronies have made ample use of it.

    I think people like Gergen should stop pushing their conspiracy theories on the public. Luckily, based on the polls, the voters are beginning to rebel against his type of rhetoric.

    August 4, 2008 at 7:05 pm |
  3. Ilona, Tempe, AZ

    I personally find the add pathetic. Folks who truly believe McCain is "one of us" ought to go ahead and vote for him. They deserve everything coming their way, including the loss of Social Security benefits, a forever widening gap between the rich and the poor, job loss and lack of health insurance.
    Americans have always voted against their best interests, because so many are uninformed, walking around with their head up their butts while halucinating they'll "make it" someday perhaps by winning the Power Ball. Gergen is right on with his assessment.
    McCain is married to an extremely wealthy woman and is said to own 9 homes. Yep, sounds just like me and my little family.

    August 4, 2008 at 6:46 pm |
  4. Barb, Bloomington MN

    Arrogant, elitist, out of touch (maybe even inexperienced) – are all now considered code for “uppity”. So they are all now off the table if you don’t want to be called a racist. That’s pretty convenient.

    When I say Obama comes off as naive and arrogant – I DON’T mean uppity!

    I mean that he seems to think that inspiration alone is going to make all things right in America. And that he alone can provide that inspiration.

    August 4, 2008 at 5:53 pm |
  5. Willow, Iowa

    Well, McCain was announced in the media before his run for the President in 2000 as "The celebrity fighter pilot that was a POW." He had that stuff deleted before this ad about obama came up.

    McCain is running a completely negative campaign. And I am hoping it will be his downfall. Of course, for someone sitting on the fence, they hear the negatives and wonder. I had a young woman neighbor say to me yesterday, "I will never vote for obama. he's a Muslim." Oh give me a break! That's still going around!

    McCain is negative in over 56% of his speech. Obama never even mentions McCain in over 90% of his speech. McCain said he was going to run an honest respectful campaign. I'm just wondering who's he's respecting?

    August 4, 2008 at 5:40 pm |
  6. Bob williams

    I once said, "We will bury you," and I got into trouble with it. Of course we will not bury you with a shovel. Your own working class will bury you.

    Nikita Khrushchev

    August 4, 2008 at 5:29 pm |
  7. Franco = Vienna, Austria

    SHAME ON YOU JOHN MCCAIN. Experienced in what – whinning? But I must say it is time for Barack Obama to start "fighting" back not just with clever one-liners but with a show of anger and temper. Try it – it could not do any harm. I am a huge Fan of yours but I am developing questions that at this point I do not see answers for. If the campaigns from both Parties does not change its direction I will not vote for either candidate. Obama did this ever dawn on you that we Independents are RAPIDLY developing questions and frankly not happy with your reactions, and answers to these unfair, ugly, stupid ads that McCain is throwing at you. But did the American public expect anything else from a flip-flop so-called maverick Senator with NO COMPUTER SKILLS?????

    August 4, 2008 at 4:56 pm |
  8. Larry

    How can McCain campaign against a good looking guy who can charm the pants off the ladies like any of the hollywood leading men.
    Women love him and men wanna be him. Is that enough? Maybe we are just as shallow. Girls wanna grow up to be Paris Hilton & Britney Spears.

    August 4, 2008 at 4:46 pm |
  9. Lisa

    Here's what I find really amusing ... we complain about the state of the US; we complain about politics as usual; we say we want a change. And when we are given a candidate who MAY offer an improvement, venturing away from politics as usual, offering change, we complain he's not experienced enough; he's from the "outside".

    Personally I don't really care who people vote for - I don't think much will change with either candidate at the helm. But if change and a different direction is what you want then vote for the guy that can offer that - not the one who has been part of the problem for the last 20 years. And if all you're doing is complaint just to complain but don't really want to change, then vote for McCain. But do me a favor, just stop the complaining if you aren't serious about making the change. (Oh, and I'm holding out for Ron Paul to run as an independent. Just imagine him and Bob Barr on a ticket together.)

    August 4, 2008 at 4:46 pm |
  10. Catrina

    That would be a pretty impressive statement if John McCain's mother thought the attack on Obama was a waste of money. But since it's Paris Hilton's mother that made the statement I guess it just kinda makes sense & doesn't wow me as much.

    August 4, 2008 at 2:55 pm |
  11. marcy

    There are plenty of reasons not to like Obama, his skin color and celebrity don't even rank in the top 10 list. His people keep saying being shot out of a plane isn't credentials to be president, i agree, however giving a great speech isn't either. Obama is a lot of flash not a lot of substance and McCain is frankly too in it to do things differently. I do not think he's like Bush as the Obama camp wants you to believe but i do think that he has that mentality of staying with things until the end. Things change people and situations change but to think that's all going to happen overnight becuase Obama and his family move in is insane. The McCain add, while tasteless and sad, is true, he's the it boy of the moment but what's going to happen when the it boy is in the white house making those calls. For the record I didn't like Hillary either. i'm pretty much SOL this political season. ARGH!

    I'm scared....really really scared.....

    August 4, 2008 at 2:48 pm |
  12. Janet, Indianapolis

    Anderson – when is the mainstream media going to hold John McCain's feet to the fire and make him start giving concrete solutions to our problems? I am being fed a steady stream of Obama criticism and McCain's mockery... but when I did seen an interview asking McCain what his Afghanistan/Iraq plan was he pretty much said he would not divulge details as Al Qaeda would be watching. It is time for him to stop fooling around and mocking the other candidate. He promised a clean campaign and yet is releasing these ridiculous, money wasting ads and gimicks.

    I would have voted for McCain in 2000, happily. But where is that man now? It's time to keep McCain honest to his original promises of a clean campaign with straight talk.

    August 4, 2008 at 2:32 pm |
  13. Michelle

    I think you all should say the participants in the poll are in favor
    of this or that and not the American public . i really wish CNN would
    focus on the issues and less of the he said he said journalism.
    This is a really important election and the issues facing America
    are huge. The latest episode of "Super News " on Current TV
    sums of the current energy crisis in a satirical but informative
    fashion hitting on all of the issues. You guys should really check
    it out.

    August 4, 2008 at 2:20 pm |
  14. Larry

    Why did John Edwards not want to be on the obama short list for vp?

    August 4, 2008 at 1:57 pm |
  15. SARA.ro

    First scope is to winn,then it will be time for every details.A winning campagne is when you could prevent chain reactions on bouth sides. If one side is pushing the other to make nasty things is not such a big "sin" .There is free will.Idilic it would be to show what you have done not what will you do.And now US needs the help, the ideas ,the actions of bouth candidates not just antitesies... But for a special scope ,sometime you need to play rough ,the time is passing faster for a "war of roses".

    August 4, 2008 at 1:37 pm |
  16. Christine

    I agree with John McCain's ads – all have made it look like Obama can walk on water and do no wrong. He is followed by he media like a mother dog with a bunch of puppies. All the fawing and swooning is exactly like how celebrities are treated, Please, he said nothing wrong about Paris or Britney, was just using them as examples of media attention, those who can not see that are pretty blind.

    For David Gergen, for the majority of the country who do not have southern background the Heston ad is right on the money.

    August 4, 2008 at 12:57 pm |
  17. Tammy

    When the Dems trash McCain, I guess it's all right. But when the Republicans play the same politics the Dems have for a long time, it's a sacrilege. Someone hand out sippie cups to the Obama camp and tell them to get over themselves. Obama lost his gains, so apparently something is working. And when you think about how large the lead should be considering the Bush ahd Republican hate in America, you have to wonder, why is Obama so weak when he should be ten to fifteen points ahead if Republicans and John McCain (or McSame as the Obama supporters like to trash him) suck so badly? Methinks Obama isn't all that great after all. And trash ads by Republicans have nothing to do with it.

    August 4, 2008 at 12:49 pm |
  18. Michelle Fonthill Ont,Canada

    The phomenon that is Barrack Obama who has captured everyone's attention like a rock star or with a movie star's quality to him.This is overshadowing the issues to which should be at the forefront of his campaing that is what John McCain's attack ads are trying to a's elude to but it's not right either. I wish he had more wexpirence dealing with mititary forces ,but he;s better fot the people of America in the long run.
    Thanks for the posting buzz Barclay
    look forward to the show tonight!

    August 4, 2008 at 12:43 pm |
  19. marcy

    Once again I ask can we PLEASE scrap them both and start over?! I mean it's pretty bad when Nader is looking good.

    Mobile, AL

    August 4, 2008 at 12:06 pm |
  20. Mike in NYC

    "Let’s see if either makes a different."

    "Makes a different." Your editor was up late last night, I see.

    Gergen is doing a disservice by inserting words like "uppity" into the mix. He's playing the "anti-racist" game himself, apparently.

    What's wrong with saying you’re against affirmative action and quotas? I'm against them myself. Does he mean you can't take those positions when addressing a Southern audience? Ridiculous.

    August 4, 2008 at 12:04 pm |
  21. JC- Los Angeles

    Isn't the entire McCain campaign a waste of time and money? I'm an undecided, Independent and feel that unless McCain can show the slighest hint of being Presidential, I will vote for giving Obama a four year internship.

    I would suggest that all other Independents do likewise.

    August 4, 2008 at 12:02 pm |
  22. Saad, Ramsey, NJ

    Knowing the disastrous state of affairs and diminishing public support, the McCain camp is desperate and out of desperation at times, arises stupidity. The ad comparing Obama to Hilton was nothing but stupid.

    August 4, 2008 at 11:58 am |
  23. tapiwa Edmonton

    its a matter of time this will back fire,americans are tired of this kind of politics,Dave Gergen was right on the mark,and l also think Mccain is not a good man period ,he left his first wife because of disability,he started dating Cindy before devorce then he calls himself a conservative with family values ,give me a break

    August 4, 2008 at 11:53 am |
  24. Heather

    I'm a life long Dem, but and I never thought I would ever say this but I think McCain needs to hire Rove to help him with his campaign. It's just so painful to watch him. You would think he would maybe want to work with him unofficially. I watch both campaigns and its not even. Of course Obama is the most arrogant politician I have ever seen!

    August 4, 2008 at 11:36 am |
  25. Barbara Mills

    Why did Jim Webb exclude himself from consideration as VP? He's head and shoulders above anyone else being considered: executive experience in Reagan cabinet, real military experience ( that includes purple heart and other decorations ) that add up to more military experience than McCaine can claim, has been, Journalist and has written books and artaicles, is a great campaigner with appeal to blue colllar workders and undestands southern culture, coud deliver a state, and more.
    Incidentally, I'm an 80 year old white female who is and has been an Obama supporter since before he declared he was running!!I was active in the 60s Civil Rights Movement in Baltimore Maryland and since retirement have writte 4 books myself.

    August 4, 2008 at 11:20 am |
  26. Kent Fitzsimmons,Kewanee, IL

    The GOP understand that negative campaigns to the masses does work...........to an extent. The Republican Party is the minority. If the rest of us voted along party lines the Repubs could never win. By attacking Obama they are trying to tear him down to McCain's level..... In effect, making the playing field somewhat even........McCain can never reach so called Rock Star status, so he is trying to dethrone the rock star candidate........Obama. That is the wrong strategy, and will not work in the end. Publicity is publicity.........good or bad. McCain's camp has become the Paparazzi.......................

    August 4, 2008 at 11:03 am |
  27. Lorie Ann, Buellton, California

    I think too many pundits have too many opinions. Every word is put under a microscope, sliced and diced and twisted into a million meanings. I personally try to listen to the candidates own words. I don't really need another person to tell me what I did and didn't hear in those words. The American people will make up their own minds, as they have in every other election. We won't know that answer for sure, if ads hurt or not, until the votes are in.

    Lorie Ann, Buellton, Calif.

    August 4, 2008 at 11:00 am |
  28. Teresa, OH

    "There has been a very intentional effort to paint him as somebody outside the mainstream, other, ‘he’s not one of us,... "

    Umm... is it just me or is this true? Obama IS not like the regular politicians. He's more like a rap star... who else brings in crowds like that? Never before have I seen a "politician" talk so much and I STILL do not get this guy. Obama doesnt even get himself.

    There's nothing wrong with Obama not being "not of of us.." whoever us is. He seems to be doing as good as McCain. I think McCains mom was out of line. Hey, if your own Mom disses you, what do you got left? I'm sure she will have an apology or retraction or something to the effect that "we" didnt understand what she meant.

    August 4, 2008 at 10:35 am |
  29. Marlon

    What John McCain did in making that ad was typical of old republican politics. It's not about addressing the issues or showing where you stand on the important things that matter to the people of this country. It's about discrediting and villifying your opponent. That's how republicans like to play. John McCain is a hypocrit and a liar. He said he did not want to run a negative campaign but his ad exemplifies negativity. It negates the issues and only speaks to demean Sen. Obama's character. I see things getting even more ugly as times goes on.

    I also think McCain is playing on the ignorance and fear of those Americans who are not quite sure about having an African-American for a president. But race is a factor in the campaign. I think the way Obama has address the negative ads from the McCain camp speaks volumes about his character. However, the DNC needs to grow a backbone and start speaking up for Obama. He is the speaker and the representative of the party. Why are they leaving him out there to fend for himself??

    August 4, 2008 at 10:29 am |
  30. Andrea

    The American people are not stupid. John McCain's ads are an insult to americans in general and black americans specifically. Because he has no platform to run on, lets tar and feather Barack Obama and that way we'll keep the WHITE House white. He sucks and so do his cronies that do his bidding. What a joke. And by the way...since this is an unusual race, expect an unusual outcome. What used to work in the past, won't work this time around. Trust me.

    August 4, 2008 at 10:17 am |
  31. Rahni, Connecticut

    McCain is an old guy who want to keep the Vietnam war going via Iraq. McCain is living in the past and he can't face the future regarding our country. They said that Obama played the "race card" last week but McCain plays the "age card" because he has more experience in WHAT?? A prisoner of war? You fail Mr. McCain you got caught! You shouldn't become chief of our nation.

    Rahni, Connecticut "OBAMA 2008
    Former Hillary Clinton Supporter

    August 4, 2008 at 10:04 am |

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