The New York Times front-pages McCain's new ad against Obama. "After spending much of the summer searching for an effective line of attack against Senator Barack Obama, Senator John McCain is beginning a newly aggressive campaign to define Mr. Obama as arrogant, out of touch and unprepared for the presidency. On Wednesday alone, the McCain campaign released a new advertisement suggesting -- and not in a good way -- that Mr. Obama was a celebrity along the lines of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. Republicans tried to portray Mr. Obama as a candidate who believed the race was all about him, relying on what Democrats said was a completely inaccurate quotation."
More: "Mr. McCain's more focused assault comes after one of his worst weeks of the general election campaign, when he seemed to fumble for a consistent, overarching critique of Mr. Obama, who winged around the Middle East and Europe. Mr. McCain's advisers continue to look for ways to bring more discipline to his message, and are being urged by some supporters to cut back the frequency of his question-and-answer sessions with reporters, a staple of his campaign but one that occasionally yields unscripted moments, misstatements and off-the-cuff pronouncements that divert attention from the themes he is trying to promote. The intensity of the recent drive -- which has included some assertions from the McCain campaign that have been widely dismissed as misleading -- has surprised even some allies of Mr. McCain, who has frequently spoken about the need for civility in politics."
The Washington Post ties the new McCain ad to criticisms that he doesn't always stick to the script. "As Election Day nears, McCain's campaign is adopting the aggressive, take-no-prisoners style of Karl Rove, the GOP operative who engineered victories for President Bush. The campaign continued the attack Wednesday with a sarcastic television ad deriding Obama as a "celebrity," part of an intensifying effort to cast him as an elitist."
"But the sharp-edged approach is being orchestrated for an unpredictable candidate who often chafes at delivering the campaign's message of the day. It is that freewheeling style that has made him popular with voters and cemented his reputation for candor and straight talk… The result is a presidential campaign that sometimes rolls between serious policy discussions about the nation's future and gotcha politics aimed at undermining his opponent's character. McCain himself is often caught in the middle, proclaiming his commitment to the former while participating in the latter."
Tom Edsall, writing on Huffington Post, writes, "Facing gale-force anti-Republican headwinds, John McCain must cut Barack Obama down to size in order to be competitive. But McCain's track record using negative ads has been and may still be problematic -- if not disastrous." More: "For McCain, negative ads have by and large been poorly conceived and minimally effective. In 2000, his decision to go negative against George W. Bush was a crucial factor in McCain's eventual defeat." In South Carolina, after Bush allies accused McCain of fathering a black baby, "McCain, who is known for his temper, took the Bush bait, becoming visibly enraged as he roamed the state and produced a television commercial in which he personally accused Bush of twisting 'the truth like Clinton.' ... By the standards of the GOP in South Carolina, John McCain had crossed over into the nether world. In a matter of a week, the Arizona Senator's bid collapsed."
"Alex Castellanos, one of George W. Bush's media mavens in 2000 and 2004, had a different take: 'The problem is that 'advertising', i.e., anything that smells even faintly false, contradicts his persona," Castellanos said. 'John McCain is the un-cola of politics, the anti-politician. And few things are more political than negative commercials that draw attention to themselves as 'advertising' designed to manipulate voters and not as 'information' designed to inform them. You can't be the un-cola and Coca Cola too.'"
The Wall Street Journal: "Presidential rivals Barack Obama and John McCain both appear to be seizing the roles in which they have been cast: Sen. Obama as front-runner and Sen. McCain as underdog. The approach carries perils for both men. Democratic Sen. Obama, who has taken to openly musing about the likelihood that he will be elected, risks coming off as arrogant and presumptuous. His Republican rival, who proclaims himself to be running behind at every stop and relentlessly attacks his opponent, risks coming off as negative and whiny."
The Los Angeles Times: "David Winston, a GOP operative in Washington, argues that McCain has erred by issuing negative personal attacks. McCain should put Obama on the defensive by highlighting their policy differences on taxes, energy and national security, he said. 'He's not emphasizing the contrasts that can actually help him win,' Winston said."
In his LA Times column, the New Republic's Jon Chait advises Obama to go on the attack against McCain, to stop letting the campaign be about Obama. "McCain may be committing lots of blunders, but the blunders aren't hurting him because the spotlight is on Obama. McCain is getting attention for his attacks on Obama, especially his frequent insinuations that Obama lacks patriotism. The attacks are usually based on lies (such as McCain's discredited claim that Obama canceled a visit with wounded troops when he discovered the media couldn't tag along -- in fact, he canceled the visit, but the media were never scheduled to come)."
The Boston Globe front-pages this headline: "McCain ads go negative early on Obama." "McCain has made a strategic decision to go directly negative much earlier than usual in the presidential race," the paper writes. "The McCain campaign hopes that the ads will define Obama before the presumptive Democratic nominee can fully introduce himself to voters - a classic campaign tactic. But the taunting commercials also risk backlash if they are seen at odds with McCain's repeated pledges to run a civil campaign on the issues. Independent analysts have said that several assertions in the ads are based on questionable claims or outright falsehoods." Affirmative action, Viagra, Czechoslovakia, Sunni Awakening timing, Iraq-Pakistan border, Sunni or Shiite, Iran training al Qaeda..." Obama has had his share of "slip ups": 57 states, "Israel is Israel's friend," more black men are in prison than college, "my" Banking Committee.
The St. Pete Times editorial board roundly criticizes McCain's negative turn, and the Cleveland Plain-Dealer and associated papers rated the "Celeb" ad a zero "in truthfulness on a scale from 0 (misleading) to 10 (truthful)."
And Karl Rove, in his Wall Street Journal column, believes Iraq could still be a decisive issue for voters.