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John McCain's presidential campaign has unveiled a new political ad that seeks to turn Barack Obama's popularity into a liability.
The ad opens with scenes from Obama's recent European trip, which drew big crowds, interspersed with images of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton.
"He's the world's biggest celebrity," an announcer says. "But is he ready to lead?"
McCain's advisers hope to paint Obama as someone with little substance.
"The focus of the Obama campaign has been as much to create that celebrity status of his as it is to discuss the hard issues that the American public are forced to debate during the course of this campaign," said Rick Davis, McCain's campaign manager.
Obama's campaign quickly issued a rebuttal.
"On a day when major news organizations across the country are taking Sen. McCain to task for a steady stream of false, negative attacks, his campaign launched yet another," said Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor. Paraphrasing Spears, he added, "Oops! He did it again."
The ad marks the latest salvo in what is already the most extensive TV campaign in history. Already, the two candidates have aired more than 100,000 commercials during the post-primary phase of the campaign, according to the Advertising Project at the University of Wisconsin. That figure is about 30 percent more advertising than President Bush and Sen. John Kerry had done at this point in the last election, four years ago.
According to the Advertising Project, one out of three McCain ads has been negative, criticizing Obama. Nine out of 10 Obama ads have been positive, stressing his own background and ideas. It's a discrepancy the McCain campaign may believe it can afford: While Obama still needs to introduce himself to many voters, McCain is an established brand.
In a year when the political winds generally favor the Democrats, McCain is counting on public doubts to work against his opponent, a freshman senator.
"The question that we are posing to the American people is this: Is he ready to lead yet?" said Steve Schmidt, a senior adviser to the McCain campaign. "And the answer to the question that we will offer to the American people is no — that he is not."
The strategy is not without risk. Going negative so early in the general election season undercuts McCain's promise to run a respectful campaign and could tarnish his reputation as an unconventional politician.
Obama was asked for his take during a campaign stop in Missouri.
"You know, I don't pay attention to John McCain's ads," Obama said. "Although I do notice that he doesn't seem to have anything to say very positive about himself. He seems to only be talking about me. You need to ask John McCain what he's for, not just what he's against."