Sunday, October 12, 2008

McCain is running out of options.

William Ayers has disappeared from Palin's stump speech since McCain called Obama "a decent man."

The McCain camp are clearly responding to the fact that their negative campaigning is producing negative results for themselves at the polls.

Ms. Palin was by no means light on the Democratic candidate, but she shifted the focus of her attacks to Mr. Obama’s voting record on abortion, saying that he “hopes you won’t notice how radical his ideas are on this until it’s too late.”

“Let there be no misunderstanding about the stakes,” she said to a cheering crowd. “A vote for Barack Obama is a vote for activist courts that will continue to smother the open and democratic debate that we deserve and need on this issue of life.”

It was a shift for the governor, who, in three fund-raisers on Friday, tried to raise questions about Mr. Obama’s personality and patriotism, charging that he had chosen “ambition over country” and “started his political career in the living room of an unrepentant terrorist.” That language was gone from Saturday’s speech.

But the fact she hadn't mentioned Ayers was noticed by a member of the baying crowd who shouted, "What about Ayers?" Palin ignored him.

This has been brought about by a general feeling in Republican circles that McCain is losing this election and many are worried that he is losing because his negative style of campaigning is not resonating with women and independents.

“I think you’re seeing a turning point,” said Saul Anuzis, the Republican chairman in Michigan, where Mr. McCain has decided to stop campaigning. “You’re starting to feel real frustration because we are running out of time. Our message, the campaign’s message, isn’t connecting.”

Tommy Thompson, a Republican who is a former governor of Wisconsin, said it would be difficult for Mr. McCain to win in his state but not impossible, particularly if he campaigned in conservative Democratic parts of the state. Asked if he was happy with Mr. McCain’s campaign, Mr. Thompson replied, “No,” and he added, “I don’t know who is.”

In Pennsylvania, Robert A. Gleason Jr., the state Republican chairman, said he was concerned that Mr. McCain’s increasingly aggressive tone was not working with moderate voters and women in the important southeastern part of a state that is at the top of Mr. McCain’s must-win list.

“They’re not as susceptible to attack ads,” Mr. Gleason said. “I worry about the southeast. Obama is making inroads.”

The problem for the McCain campaign as far as I have been concerned is that I cannot define any recognisable message. He claims that he is running on change but, when pressed, that change appears to be limited to earmarks, which is hardly an issue likely to set the electorate on fire. Other than that his campaign's only other theme has been the claim that Barack Obama is not ready to be president.

McCain undermined this central charge by his choice of Palin as VP but, more importantly, Obama has seen off such a charge by the way he has clearly shown himself to be ready over the past two years and especially with his reaction to the economic crisis which appeared to send John McCain into a tailspin.

The McCain camp continue to insist that they are confident of victory.

But the problem for McCain is best summed up here:

But no subject has more divided Republicans than the one that has been a matter of disagreement in the McCain camp: how directly to invoke Mr. Obama’s connection to his controversial former minister, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., and William Ayers, a former member of the Weather Underground who has had a passing association with Mr. Obama over the years.

In Colorado, a traditionally Republican state that Mr. McCain is struggling to keep in his column, the party chairman, Dick Wadhams, urged Mr. McCain to hit the issue hard, arguing that it was fair game and could be highly effective in raising questions about Mr. Obama in the final weeks of the campaign. He said he was surprised Mr. McCain had failed to do so in the debate last week.

“I think those are legitimate insights into who Senator Obama is,” Mr. Wadhams said. “I do not think it is irrelevant to this election.”

The problem for the Republicans is that they never want to run on their own policies as they appear aware that their policies are anathema to most of the electorate. So they are left debating how to inject Ayers and Wright into the debate without looking as if they are campaigning negatively.

In other words, negative campaigning is all that they do, they have no other stick to throw and, as negative campaigning is proving not to work this time around, they are left debating how to campaign negatively without appearing to do so.

They simply don't get it. The Obama campaign's claim that he was going to remain positive amused them greatly earlier on in the year. They believed that they had him trapped in a corner and that they could attack him at leisure and that he could not respond.

Now, they find it is themselves who are trapped. The public loathes their constant negativity but, when McCain attempts to suggest that Obama is "a decent man", his own supporters boo him.

The notion that one should campaign on policy seems to have, literally, never occurred to them. So they remain in the perfect trap that they have created for themselves: trying to work out how to campaign negatively (with looking as if they are doing so) whilst admitting that negative campaigning isn't working in this election.

It's simply bonkers, but it's the final proof that this is one of the worst campaigns that any of us have ever seen.

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