From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Carrie Dann
*** One more Ayers-ing: With the news that the RNC is up with an Ayers ad, running specifically in states that share the Chicago media market (Indiana and Wisconsin), it appears the McCain camp and national party strategists are letting their split personalities show on how to go after Obama. It seems that each day this week, there's another decision made on how hard to go after Obama on the subject. This week alone, we've seen both ratcheting up and ratcheting back. With the RNC deciding to split the difference -- hit him for Chicago connections and Ayers in states that might actually "get" the negative image the phrase "Chicago pol" is supposed to conjure up -- it'll be an interesting test to see if they get decent traction. Now the McCain campaign is up with its own Ayers ad. The risk in all of this, of course, is looking out of touch in the current environment where the country's entire focus is on the economy. Already, we're hearing whispers -- even among some Dems -- wondering why the McCain folks decided to use Ayers now and not two months ago when they instead went the empty rhetoric/celebrity route.
*** Speaking of the economy: There is a two-prong strategy right now inside the McCain camp: hit Obama on character and try to start a conversation on the economy on their terms. At the debate earlier this week, McCain pushed his plan to have the government buy up bad mortgages in an attempt to prop up home values. The good news for McCain: His idea has enough legs in this current environment that it is getting some coverage and there's a real debate between the two campaigns about the idea. The bad news: Most of the coverage of the plan is negative, in part because the Obama camp is hitting the idea hard and because some conservatives aren't thrilled with the idea of more government money being involved in this financial bailout. McCain's not getting the credit right now they were hoping to receive for attempting to come up with new ideas for the economy. Obama's not exactly pushing a lot of new plans these days -- instead he's reiterating some principles he's been saying for months. He's basically riding the wave of voter discontent with the Republicans on the economy and trying not to offer up too much that could somehow change the dynamic of the economic debate. Ultimately, there's a one-word answer for McCain's problems: Bush.
*** What's wrong with the GOP? At yesterday's McCain-Palin town hall in Wisconsin, one attendee remarked, "We're all wondering why that Obama is where he's at, how he got here. I mean, everybody in this room is stunned that we're in this position." With McCain trailing and Republicans poised to lose more House and Senate seats than previously expected, that questioner isn't the only one wondering what's wrong the GOP. Today, David Brooks performs a pre-autopsy pinpointing the problems at the GOP's current anti-intellectualism/elite tilt. "[Palin] is another step in the Republican change of personality. Once conservatives admired Churchill and Lincoln above all — men from wildly different backgrounds who prepared for leadership through constant reading, historical understanding and sophisticated thinking. Now those attributes bow down before the common touch. And so, politically, the G.O.P. is squeezed at both ends. The party is losing the working class by sins of omission — because it has not developed policies to address economic anxiety. It has lost the educated class by sins of commission — by telling members of that class to go away."
*** Minority Report: Expect to see a lot of Republicans and conservatives to begin the pre-bituaries now in the hopes that they strike upon a solution early that somehow works to salvage either McCain or a few House and Senate candidates. Among some GOP strategists, there is some real nervousness that if things are as dark politically for the party on November 4 as they look now, the party could be in the minority for a half generation (12 years or so) -- not just two or four years. Six months ago, the "in" historical analogy for this year was 1980. That analogy may be making a comeback. After all, Reagan just didn't win in 1980, but Republicans picked up 12 Senate seats (some, seemingly out of nowhere), and the Republican run began where they controlled the House, Senate, or the presidency every single year sans two between 1980 and now. The prospects for the Dems on their gains in the House and Senate continue to rise. Literally, as the Dow drops, so do the poll numbers for House and Senate Republicans -- it's directly related. If the election were held today, Democrats would probably win more House and Senate seats this year than they did in 2006. There's always time for things to turn around a bit. But if Democrats actually win seven-plus Senate seats and 30-plus House seats, the GOP will be at historically low levels in both chambers. And what makes this remarkable is that in the House, it will be in GOP-drawn districts where Democrats make these gains. With redistricting coming up in two years, well, you get the picture. It's getting ugly fast for the GOP.
*** How much money do they have? Another reason for the GOP's current woes -- and the Democratic Mo' -- is that Democrats have better utilized the internet and the post-McCain-Feingold fundraising system. Just yesterday, we learned that Obama has purchased 30 minutes worth of time on network TV for October 29. That begs the question: Just how much money does the Obama campaign have now to spend? We'll find out those September fundraising by as late as October 20. (Did he top $100 million for the month? That's the rumor). As that University of Wisconsin Advertising Project made clear, Obama is outspending the McCain camp in battleground states -- big time. However, the GOP is attempting to make some hay out of the loophole some small donors have found by faking their names in their donations to Obama. While it likely won't get serious legs this campaign season, it should spark some reformers to demand more transparency and accountability for donors who give less than $200.
*** The nattering nabobs of negativism: How worried should the McCain campaign be about these rowdy crowds that McCain-Palin receive (and it's really Palin that draws them since she's the one who fires folks up)? The media isn't going to cover these rowdy crowds as "enthusiastic" supporters -- but instead as nattering nabobs of negativism. More coverage and more coverage is being given to what these attendees are saying. The "what if an attendee says..." has got to be entering the minds of Nicolle Wallace and Steve Schmidt as they prep their principals each day. We're betting McCain or Palin has a ready line for lecturing an over-the-top supporter, which at this point seems inevitable.
*** Going nuts over ACORN: In recent weeks, the community organization ACORN has quickly joined the ranks of Rezko, Ayers, and Wright on the list of what the GOP considers nefarious Obama associations. The RNC routinely blasts emails reminding reporters of allegations that the group has collected fabricated voter registration forms, including the news this week that investigators raided its Nevada headquarters. House Minority Leader Boehner demanded that Congress axe the federal "slush fund" that goes to ACORN's mortgage and foreclosure counseling arm. And Palin jumped into the fray yesterday, calling Obama's characterizations of his ties to the organization "curious." Those ties? As a civil rights attorney, he represented a group of housing organizations, including ACORN; he worked with a group called Project Vote, now allied with ACORN, during the early '90s; and his campaign had to amend an FEC report earlier this year to reflect a payment to an offshoot of the group. As the Ayers episode has taught us, Obama opponents will seize on any tie -- tenuous or not -- to make him look suspicious.
*** Is it really voter fraud? ACORN has gotten itself into trouble, as it did in 2004, because its workers -- some who are homeless and ex-felons -- get paid for registering voters, and that in some cases leads to these workers turning in bogus forms. But is that voter fraud, as Republicans suggest? Not really, voting experts tell First Read. For one thing, it's highly unlikely that these fake registrations actually get added to the rolls. And if they do, it's doubtful that Harry Potter, Han Solo, or Haywood Jablome would actually show up at the polls. The big problem these bogus forms present, says voting expert Doug Chapin, is that they gum up the process of approving legitimate registrations -- especially at a time when there have been so many new registered voters.
*** Troopergate back in the news: McCain has continually highlighted Palin's reform credentials on the campaign trail. "I can't wait to introduce her to Washington, DC," he says. But the lingering Troopergate scandal in Alaska -- in which Palin has been accused of firing the state's public safety commissioner because he wouldn't dismiss a trooper who was her ex-brother-in-law -- has served to cast doubt on those credentials. At 1:00 pm ET today, per NBC's Savannah Guthrie, the Alaska legislature's legislative council committee will convene to consider its report on Troopergate and vote whether to make it public. And if it looks anything thing today's New York Times investigation into the matter, it could prove to be embarrassing. "[A]n examination of the case, based on interviews with Mr. Monegan and several top aides, indicates that, to a far greater degree than was previously known, the governor, her husband and her administration pressed the commissioner and his staff to get Trooper Wooten off the force, though without directly ordering it. In all, the commissioner and his aides were contacted about Trooper Wooten three dozen times over 19 months by the governor, her husband and seven administration officials, interviews and documents show."
*** On the trail: McCain remains in Wisconsin, holding a rally in La Crosse before heading to a town hall in Lakeville, MN. Obama continues to campaign in Ohio, hitting Chillicothe and Columbus. Palin visits a community-living center in North Olmsted, OH. And Biden attends a rally in Springfield, MO.
Countdown to the third presidential debate: 5 days
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 25 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 102 days
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