Tuesday Morning: Debate-Eve Character Hits; Politico Takes On Race; And Hsu Back In The News
Good debate morning, merry readers.
As the markets keep dropping, the stakes keep rising for our candidates -- and the campaigns get increasingly personal. The Obama campaign responded to a Sarah Palin hit on Bill Ayers with a 13-minute documentary video about McCain's involvement in the Keating Five, and is now cheerfully circulating news stories about McCain's connections with a group that had ties to the Contras back in the 1980s. And both campaigns are out with new negative ads this morning. McCain's spot calls Obama "hypocritical" when he accuses McCain of running misleading ads. Obama's ad says McCain is "running out of time" and needs to distract Americans from the country's problems by smearing Obama.
But is this really where voters want the campaign to go as the Dow sinks and world markets teeter? The NYT's Adam Nagourney posits that a continued descent into character assassination could make the candidates appear petty at a time of genuine fear for many Americans. He suggests McCain has more to lose, since he's already struggling for traction on economic issues.
Yet in shifting toward a more negative and personal message, the two campaigns risked seeming detached from the economic anxieties of voters at a time when the financial system is teetering. The risk could be especially great for Mr. McCain, who has ceded political ground to Mr. Obama during the financial crisis and has taken the more combative stance in recent days. A lacerating speech he gave Monday -- "Who is the real Barack Obama?" Mr. McCain asked -- was shown on cable television juxtaposed with images of another horrible day on Wall Street.
The LA Times seconds that sentiment, and adds that even if the attacks stick, it's unclear they'll sway voters who are preoccupied by little things like, say, losing their homes/jobs/401(k)s.
Even if McCain manages to tap into public uncertainty about Obama's past, it is the fears of financial meltdown that are likely to decide "whether the doubts that are raised make a damn bit of difference to voters," said one GOP strategist, who requested anonymity in order to speak frankly about internal party deliberations.
Tonight's event is a town hall format, which leaves less leeway for the candidates to drive the conversation off a cliff. NBC's Tom Brokaw will moderate. McCain has historically thrived in the town hall setting, but has lately stuck to more scripted events, apparently in an effort to maintain message discipline. Lynn Sweet describes the rules and format for tonight's show, as agreed to by both campaigns:
Brokaw selects the questions to ask from written queries submitted prior to the debate, according to the "contract."
An audience member will not be allowed to switch questions. Under the deal, the moderator may not ask followups or make comments. The person who asks the question will not be allowed a follow-up either, and his or her microphone will be turned off after the question is read. A camera shot will only be shown of the person asking -- not reacting.
The candidates are also prohibited from asking each other questions and can't wander outside their "designated areas", which will be marked on the stage.
In pollsville, the Washington Post and ABC have new numbers this morning giving Obama a 6-point advantage in Ohio, the state that secured George W. Bush's re-election in 2004. Obama has opened up a 14-point lead among women, a group Bush and Kerry split evenly last time. No Republican has ever won the presidency without carrying Ohio.
But despite recent swing-state boosts for Obama, the subtext of the election is still dominated by a giant question mark that no one seems to know how to handicap or talk about: race. This morning's Politico takes the issue head on in a special section on race and the campaign. Harris and Vandehei observe the uncertainty among journalists and pundits about a possible racial backlash on election day, and whether or not the Bradley Effect is really dead. John Kraushaar provides anecdotal evidence that some working-class white voters are more concerned about pocketbook issues than identity politics. And Ben Smith adds that while white resistance to Obama could be under-polled, so might black support. Smith examines the Obama camp's comprehensive registration and get-out-the-vote efforts in the black community -- which have remained off the radar of most mainstream media.
Little of this targeted outreach has produced images of Obama addressing black crowds or mingling with black officials, and most has gone unnoticed by the broader electorate.
"If you didn't notice it, then you probably weren't the target," said Obama spokesman Corey Ealons of the targeted advertising. He described the campaign's general voter registration drive - which has focused heavily on young voters, as well as African-Americans - as "a very extensive effort and that's been one of the highlights and major focuses of the campaign."
Smith quotes pollster Mark Blumenthal's assertion that if the Obama campaign can turn out black voters at a higher rate than white voters, "it could be worth a point or two in states like Virginia, Ohio, Michigan, and maybe Indiana, and the polls may or may not be picking it up." With tight polls in many swing states, those could be big points.
And finally, in a throwback to the halcyon days of summer 2007: Norman Hsu! Hsu, for those whose memories of those days are deservedly hazy, is a former Hillary Clinton bundler who went on the lam after news reports sparked an investigation into his fundraising tactics and who was later apprehended by the FBI after getting sick on a train in Colorado. It turned out he was already a fugitive after failing to appear for sentencing for a fraud-related theft charge in 1991. Today the LA Times reports that the SEC has filed a civil suit against Hsu for operating a $60 million ponzi scheme.
I'll be back this evening to fact-check the debate with our army of issues reporters and Twitterers. Until then, you're in Laurel Wamsley's capable hands.
-- Evie Stone
10:30 AM ET | 10- 7-2008 | permalink