[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/08/25/art.mccain.yankee2.jpg caption=" Sen. John McCain and Puerto Rican reggaeton star Daddy Yankee waves as they board the Straight Talk Air campaign charter airplane in Phoenix, Ariz., Monday."]
CNN White House Correspondent
Presidential candidates usually keep a low-profile during the other guy's convention, but not John McCain. He's trying here in his home state to stay relevant to what's happening in Denver at the Democratic National Convention.
The strategy behind McCain skipping the usual R&R is pretty clear: The latest CNN/Opinion Research poll shows this race is much closer frankly than either side expected to be in a sour year for Republicans, so Team McCain wants to keep the heat on Barack Obama.
"If you had told me two months ago that we'd be dead even heading into the Democratic National Convention, I would have told you were crazy," one McCain adviser told me.
So McCain advisers say their goal is to do all they can to hold Obama's convention "bounce" in the polls down to a minimum, so he could head into St. Paul next week with some real momentum. They think the best way to do that is to drive a deeper wedge between Obama and Hillary Clinton.
It started over the weekend, when Obama picked Joe Biden instead of Clinton as his running mate. McCain's camp quickly released a TV ad entitled "Passed Over," trying to stoke the already-simmering anger among Clintonites who feel she got a raw deal. Now the Republican National Committee has another ad pouring more gasoline on the fire.
"Who has the experience to govern our nation?" the narrator begins, before cutting to an old clip from Clinton during the tense Democratic primary season. "Senator McCain will bring a lifetime of experience to the campaign," Clinton says in the clip. "I will bring a lifetime of experience, and Senator Obama will bring a speech he gave in 2002."
For the record, Clinton insists she's miffed by the barrage of ads. "I'm Hillary Clinton and I do not approve that message," Clinton told members of the New York delegation Monday, playing off the tag line of all campaign ads these days.
But McCain keeps churning the ads out anyway, including one featuring a disillusioned Clinton delegate from Wisconsin who says she's now voting Republican for the first time. "I respect his maverick and independent streak, and now he's the one with the experience and judgment," she says of McCain. "A lot of Democrats will vote McCain. It's okay, really!"
While his ads are going for the jugular, McCain is trying to project a positive image with easy photo-ops during the Democratic festivities. After promising a press conference on Monday, McCain aides instead rolled out a - dare I use the word - celebrity endorsement. It was a Latin recording star, "Daddy Yankee," who's so popular he literally sent the female students shrieking at a mostly Latino high school in nearby Phoenix.
"One of his most famous songs, I know you're very familiar with - 'Gasolina'," McCain said of a song that it's a safe bet he did not know too much about until recently. Let's face it, Daddy Yankee is not your typical McCain voter (based on the scantily-clad ladies in his music videos).
But the point is McCain is having a little fun, while Democrats are fretting about whether they're on the verge of blowing an historic opportunity. That’s why the Republican was planning to spend Monday night on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno." A good chance to have a few laughs, and if McCain could reach out to some supporters of Hillary Clinton along the way - well that's a nice little bonus.
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