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Category Archive for ‘McCain’ at Campaign Diaries
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Archive for the 'McCain' Category


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McCain revisits September 2008

Nine months after his presidential defeat, John McCain gave an interview to The Wall Street Journal in which he revisited the fateful September sequence that drove his numbers down irremediably. Yet, he embellished the facts enough that a little reality check is in order.

First, McCain did his best to justify his September 24th decision to suspend his campaign. He acknowledged what most of us had diagnosed within hours of his announcement - that the move was “impetuous and rash:”

You have no idea the pressure I was under. I remember being on the phone with President Bush, Vice President Cheney, the Treasury secretary and [Fed Chairman Ben] Bernanke. They assure me the world financial system is going to collapse if I don’t vote for the bill. So I do the impetuous and rash thing by saying, look, I have got to go back to Washington and see how I can help. And by the way, so did Obama but it was McCain that was the impetuous one.

McCain is right that his campaign suspension did not play well with voters, as it allowed the Obama campaign to portray him as erratic. But I do want to tweak the rest of his account. Given the circumstances of McCain’s decision, he really should not expect many people to believe he was motivated by the good of the country rather than electoral considerations. The suspension was just the latest in a series of dramatic gambles through which McCain tried to shuffle up the race (think Britney Spears and Sarah Palin), and it came just as we were discussing how McCain had lost all the control of the campaign narrative - something no trailing candidate can afford to do.

If McCain’s motivations are up for debate, however, what he did after he returned to Washington is not - and that’s where his attempt to compare his actions to Obama’s truly fails. On September 26th, the White House convened a meeting with congressional leaders of both parties; McCain and Obama were present. Within hours of the meeting, news reports revealed that McCain had remained silent throughout the meeting, only offering a vague statement at the end that avoiding lending a hand to House Republicans or to the administration.

Over the next few months, numerous journalists reported additional details about that meeting: Obama had spoken at great length about what needed to be done to quell the financial crisis while McCain had repeatedly refused to speak, deferring to other people present in the meeting. And it goes on: Over the following days, Obama called numerous House Democrats urging them to support the bailout while McCain was generally described as absent from the proceedings.

Add to this the fact that it’s McCain who made a big show of announcing he was suspending all campaign activities (not to mention attempting to delay the VP debate), and we perhaps get a sense of why McCain’s actions were described as impetuous and Obama’s are not.

Second, McCain claimed to the WSJ that he was on his way to victory until the financial crisis melted his presidential aspirations along with the stock market:

We were three points up on September 14. The next day the market lost 700 points and $1.2 trillion in wealth vanished, and by the end of the day we were seven points down. We lost the white college graduate voters, who became profoundly disillusioned with Republicans. And by the way, that was the way it ended up. We lost by seven points.

It is entirely true that McCain’s poll numbers surged the first two weeks of September - he even scored an impressive 10% lead in a Gallup that gave heartburn to all Obama supporters. In fact, you will remember that this period as the only time in the general election in which Democrats were really concerned that the election might not go their way.

Yet, how can we possibly not take into account the fact that this early September period consisted in the Republican convention’s immediate aftermath? While McCain’s surge was a bit bigger than most of us expected, a bounce was certainly expected and we were always aware that a bounce is bound to fade. I wrote on September 7th:

We will now have to wait a few more days to see the state of the race once the post-convention emotions have settled. Earlier this week, Obama reached his highest levels ever in the tracking poll - 51% in Rasmussen and 50% in Gallup - but he quickly lost his gains. Now, McCain looks to be at a historic highs, and should receive good numbers again in tomorrow’s tracking deliveries (the first entirely taken after McCain’s acceptance speech). But while McCain’s results in polls taken on Friday and Saturday were surely going to have improved, what will voters remember by next Tuesday, Wednesday night?

To have made the convention matter, Republicans needed to do more than grab a lead in the topline numbers - they need to affect voters’ trust in Obama’s experience and change their view of the proximity between McCain and Bush. While the GOP had certainly seized an edge over the day-to-day campaigning (McCain had far more control over the campaign narrative over those 2 weeks), we never saw any evidence that the fundamentals of the race had changed: The electorate still wanted to kick out Republicans, Democrats had gained a huge registration advantage and the GOP’s hope that Palin would take care of the enthusiasm gap looked like wishful thinking. 

Furthermore, even in this time period McCain committed unforced errors that made it clear he would not be able to keep Obama on the defensive for long, whether or not the economy had erupted as the top fall story: McCain’s all-out war on the press was an incredibly foolish decision given that any campaign reporting had to transpire through the media. While journalists typically refrain from pointing out that political attacks are false, the GOP’s anti-press rhetoric was so intense that the media no longer held back; Republicans’ refusal to edit themselves after their claims had been debunked or the sex-ed for kindergartners ad also contributed to cementing the campaign narrative of a truth-twisting McCain.

Frankly, this became such a huge problem for the Republican in the days leading to September 14th that he would have had trouble keeping his credibility straight had the Wall Street meltdown not occurred; if anything, the financial crisis gave him an opportunity to turn the sex-ed/Palin page and reveal himself as a leader - which is exactly what he tried to do by suspending his campaign. Unfortunately for Republicans, that move massively backfired.


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Searching for Republican defectors

Barack Obama’s inauguration will kick off an era of Democratic dominance in Washington, since the incoming President will have the support of large majorities in both chambers of Congress. In fact, Democrats now enjoy a bigger majority in both the House and the Senate than Republicans ever did over the past eight years - and that did not stop the Bush Administration from passing major reforms!

Yet, the GOP cannot be expected to roll over as much as congressional Democrats did over the past eight years, and reaching 60 votes might not always prove easy for the Democratic leadership. For one, Democrats “only” control 59 Senate seats so there will always be the need for at least one Republican cross-over.

Furthermore, and while the Southern realignment has eliminated the Senate’s truly conservative Democrats, a number of Democratic Senators (Mark Pryor, Mary Landrieu, Blanche Lincoln, perhaps Michael Bennet or Marc Begich, …) are expected to break with their caucus on crucial issues (such as the battle over union card checks), forcing Harry Reid to find even more votes among Republicans.

There will be obvious candidates for defection on an issue-by-issue basis; and Democrats will obviously always keep an eye on Senators like Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins.

But the more interesting question (the one that keeps conservative activists up at night and makes Democrats hopeful) is which Republican Senators could find themselves drifting towards the center in a predictable trend, establishing a pattern of alliance with the Democratic Party that would make Obama’s governance and Reid’s leadership that much easier?

1. The unpredictable lame ducks

Once they announce their retirement, Senators generally care less about pleasing their party’s establishment and donors, thereby becoming somewhat unpredictable lame ducks. This leads Chris Bowers to argue that Republican retirements could be a source of votes for Democrats; he cites as evidence the difference between the voting patterns on the December auto-bailout bill of those Senators who knew they were soon leaving the chamber and those who were staying.

I am weary of generalizing this argument, since the underlying premise would be that a Senator’s true ideology is are always more centrist than their public persona dictates - and this is clearly not the case. In many cases, becoming a lame duck can allow a Senator to be more unapologetically left- or right-wing.

But there is undoubtedly some truth to Bowers’s argument when we consider some of the Republicans retiring in 2010. First, there is Florida’s Mel Martinez, a reliable conservative but one who has expressed unease with his party’s position on immigration. As a Senator, it was hard for Martinez to break with his party’s orthodoxy on one of the issues that are most important to the Republican base.

But that could change now that Martinez is on his way out: He might be more willing to support Obama’s efforts if the President wants to pass an immigration reform over the next two years, Martinez might be more willing to support his efforts.

An even better example might be George Voinovich. Over his two terms, Ohio’s Senior Senator had become a somewhat predictable conservative vote in the Senate; but Voinovich had the reputation of a moderate Republican when he was Ohio’s Governor in the 1990s, and that is fueling some hopes among Democrats that he might now choose to cross-over to vote in favor of some of Obama’s economic bills.

Groups allied to the Democratic Party are already targeting Voinovich. Americans United for Change, for instance, is airing the following ad in Ohio about the stimulus plan:

Yet (and this where things get complicated, and thus fascinating to follow) Voinovich’s retirement might have the opposite effect, making him that much less receptive to Democratic arguments on an issue like card checks. Unions were hoping that the muscle they demonstrated in Ohio during the presidential election would force Voinovich to reconsider his opposition to EFCA (card-checks) to avoid their wrath in the 2010 midterms. But Voinovich is no longer running for re-election, so he can vote however he likes without having to think of the consequences of alienating labor.

2. Arlen Specter

In an ordinary year, Pennsylvania’s Arlen Specter would be one of the first Republicans targeted as possible a defector. Specter has often bucked his party over the years, and he is also believed to be open to crossing over in favor of a card-check bill.

Yet, Specter’s usual voting patterns might be moot this year as the Senator wants to prove his conservative bona fides to avoid being primaried in the spring of 2010. In 2004, then-Rep. Pat Toomey came within 7,000 votes of upseting Specter in a bruising contest in which Toomey ran on the incumbent’s right. (Toomey is now the President of Club for Growth.)

Now, Toomey has expressed interest in running again. Given that Pennsylvania’s Republican electorate is now far more conservative than it was six years ago, Specter is understandably very concerned in not giving his old adversary another opening and that is likely to prevent Demorats from counting on his votes on important occasions, starting with EFCA. (Note that Toomey’s flirtations with a run might be intended as nothing more than a way of making Specter vote to the right for the next few months.)

Already, Specter has done his best to look like he is resisting the incoming Administration. His criticism of Eric Holder’s appointment as Attorney General is among the most vocal opposition we have heard a Senator express against one of Obama’s picks. Specter took a very aggressive role in Holder’s confirmation hearings today, drawing the headlines he wanted conservatives activists to see.

3. John McCain

One final question mark is what role Obama’s presidential adversary will play in the 111th Congress.  At the beginning of Bush’s presidency, McCain emerged as a serious thorn on the President’s side as he bitterly criticized some of his reforms.

McCain could take a similar role this year, becoming a rallying point for Republican opposition to Obama. Such an attitude would be covered very differently than his criticism of Bush, however. The reason McCain’s 2001 attitude attracted so much attention was that he belonged to the same party as Bush; on the other hand, McCain criticizing Obama would be in line with what is expected from a Senator of an opposing party.

Furthermore, it is unlikely that McCain would take such a route. There is a reason the Arizona Senator has never been a conservative icon, after all, and he is unlikely to feel comfortable as the de facto head of Republican resistance.

This is certainly not to say that McCain will buck the GOP and support Obama’s bills, but it is fascinating to see that conservatives (and longtime McCain opponents) are predicting that he will do just that, betraying them as they believe he has in the past. Former Senator Rick Santorum just penned an editorial in The Philadelphia Inquirer warning that McCain might be Obama’s “secret weapon:”

In McCain’s mind, however, losing the presidency will not be the final chapter of his life story. He knows the path to “Big Media” redemption. Working with the man who vanquished him in November will show them all the real McCain again.

Remember, it was this onetime prisoner of war who led the charge to open diplomatic relations with Vietnam. If that past is prologue, and McCain’s legislative record is any guide, he will not just join with Obama but lead the charge in Congress on global warming, immigration “reform,” the closing of Guantanamo, federal funding for embryonic-stem-cell research, and importation of prescription drugs.

But McCain won’t stop there in his effort to rehabilitate himself in the media’s - or maybe his own - eyes.

In early 2008, Santorum endorses Mitt Romney in an effort to squash McCain’s bid, and it is worth revisiting his comments:

There was a reason John McCain collapsed last year, and it’s because he was the frontrunner, and everybody in the Republican Party got a chance to look at him. And when they looked at him, they wait well, wait a minute, he’s not with us on almost all of the core issues of…on the economic side, he was against the President’s tax cuts, he was bad on immigration. On the environment, he’s absolutely terrible. He buys into the complete left wing environmentalist movement in this country. He is for bigger government on a whole laundry list of issues. He was…I mean, on medical care, I mean, he was for re-importation of drugs. I mean, you can go on down the list. I mean, this is a guy who on a lot of the core economic issues, is not even close to being a moderate, in my opinion.

Needless to say, what Senators like McCain, Voinovich, Martinez, Specter and others do over the next few months will become immediate fodder on the GOP’s upcoming civil war.


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McCain takes us back to experience, warns of all-blue DC and remains obsessed with Iowa

With its back against the wall, the McCain campaign is still not invoking Wright - but it is leaving behind all nuance in its latest ad. The stop uses Joe Biden’s recent comments on a coming international crisis to bring the conversation back to national security and experience:

Whenever a campaign uses footage of Chavez, Ahmadinejad, of men marching with rifle and of cataclysmic international circumstances, there is great risk that it could fall in Rudy Giuliani territory and give fodder to critics that charge that Republicans are using fear tactics. But beyond those questions of appropriateness, the biggest problem of McCain’s latest offensive is - and I have said this many times already, but I cannot emphasize this enough - consistency.

It might not be McCain’s fault that national security hasn’t been a dominant issue in the fall campaign. But they are solely responsible for having abandoned the experience argument. On September 6th, I wrote a puzzled post about McCain’s “revolutionary departure from what we expected the GOP’s general election argument to be.” The campaign’s primary argument no longer concerned readiness to lead - the theme of McCain’s summer attacks. Forget experience, forget familiarity, forget patriotism, the GOP started to say: Even if voters just think about who represents true change, they should settle on McCain.

Seven weeks later, McCain’s has made no progress in his efforts to claim the change mantle, and the main weapon he had to voice that argument (Sarah Palin) is now far more of a liability than an asset with swing voters. The change argument has failed, the McCain campaign is trailing by double-digits in a number of polls - and now we go back to the experience argument?

What is particularly tragic for Republicans is that McCain’s attacks on Obama’s readiness were resonating during the summer: the race tightened considerably between the launch of the celebrity ads and the Democratic convention, and Hillary voters were drifting away from Obama. But by picking Sarah Palin and abandoning the experience argument, the GOP gave Obama nearly two months to reassure voters and make himself familiar to them. He was steady at the debates and throughout the financial meltdown. As a result, recent national polls show that the public now trusts Obama more than McCain to handle a major crisis.

Not only did McCain’s abandoning the experience argument prevent him from landing solid blows for weeks, it also let Obama’s readiness go unchallenged for weeks, making it far more difficult for Republicans to suddenly pick up where they left off at the end of August.

McCain’s second closing argument is a warning that an Obama election would mean undivided Democratic government. “The answer to a slowing economic is not higher taxes,” said McCain today. “But that’s exactly what’s going to happen when the Democrats have total control of Washington. We can’t let that happen.” McCain went on to attack Barney Frank, in an obvious attempt to link Obama to congressional Democrats and play on the GOP’s new talking points of running against what they call the Obama-Pelosi-Reid “triumvirate.”

There are a two problems with this strategy, however. First, we have seen over the past few months that voters are currently looking at Washington as a Republican stronghold and are not taking into account the Democratic majorities in Congress. There is no evidence that 2008 will be an anti-incumbent year targeting Democratic and Republican representatives alike; there is every evidence that it will be an anti-Republican year, making McCain’s argument warning against the perils of giving more power to congressional Democrats harder for voters to accept.

Second, voters think of the presidential election as the primary one, and it is not likely that many will decide on their presidential choice based on who is controlling Congress. The process usually works the other way around! And congressional Republicans fully intend to take advantage of that, as some candidates are now starting to run on the assumption of an Obama presidency to warn voters to not give him too large congressional powers. As I noted yesterday, a new NRSC ad in NC tells voters that a Hagan victory would mean Democratic control of all levels of government. Even Democratic-leaning papers are being swayed by this argument; the Oregonian, for instance, endorsed Gordon Smith because of its concerns that a 60-seat Democratic majority would lead to excesses.

It won’t be easy for McCain to make an argument against undivided government if congressional Republicans continue voicing their own version of that warning.

But the most incredible of McCain’s strategic decisions has to be his obsession with Iowa. Sarah Palin will hold two of her three rallies tomorrow in Iowa, while McCain will be campaigning in New Mexico, another state that is a likely Obama pick-up. Then, McCain will be holding an event in Iowa himself on Sunday before traveling to Ohio. I understand that Iowa is in between New Mexico and Ohio, but so is Missouri, a far more competitive state in all recent polls.

It is one thing for the McCain campaign to pin a lot of its hopes on Pennsylvania despite most polls suggesting that Obama has a double-digit lead; after all, McCain needs to make a stand somewhere, Pennsylvania doesn’t have early voting and it is unclear whether McCain has any hope of winning without picking it up.But McCain’s commitment to regularly traveling to the Hawkeye State is incomprehensible.


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McCain’s long-odds and electability, revisited

Today’s “one year ago today” feature brings us a flashback that is highly relevant to the current political situation. On October 22th, 2007, new national polls released by Rasmussen led me to write the following:

“Rasmussen came out with national match-ups between Barack Obama and two Republicans. He finds Obama leading Romney 48% to 39%, but trailing McCain 45% to 44%. This might seem like an inconsequential shift, but consider that Obama-McCain is now the only one of the twelve potential match-ups polled by Rasmussen that the Democratic candidate loses. Edwards and Clinton lead all four potential Republican nominees in the most recent Rasmussen poll, and Obama leads against three of the four - only losing to McCain…

McCain’s strength was also noticeable in most of SUSA’s state polls over the past week. Democrats should feel relieved that McCain is so far down in the GOP nomination race.”

In the election’s current narrative, the economic crisis propelled Obama to a wide lead after months of a toss-up race. What better reminder than this post that Democrats have been in a dominant position for more than a year, and that this election was a dead heat was the first half of September, in the immediate aftermath of the GOP convention? The best a Republican candidate could muster in October 2007 in twelve separate match-ups pitting three Democrats against four Republicans was a one point lead.

It is ironic, of course, that the one match-up in which the GOPer was in the lead happens to have been the McCain-Obama one (which was far from being the most likely general election line-up at the point), but that should not obscure the fact that any Republican was bound to face long odds against any Democrat this year, and while Obama was slightly underperforming during the summer he has been in the driver’s seat since the day he wrapped up the Democratic nomination.

If McCain were to somehow storm back and win the election, he would not just be defying the trends of the past five weeks, he would be defying the trends of the past three years.

That said, my post last year suggested that McCain was the one candidate who could perhaps defy those trends and get himself elected. (Of course, McCain’s improbable rise to the top of the Republican field did not start for at least another month; in my November 26th assesment of the Republican race, McCain was still ranked fifth.) And it was not just based on this one Rasmussen poll; nearly every survey that was released for months confirmed that McCain was far more electable than his competitors (witness this post written on January 25th).

Now that McCain is struggling to keep a dozen of red states, however, should we revisit last year’s assessment? Was McCain not the most electable Republican candidate after all?

If McCain loses, this question will surely be debated at length - but I remain convinced that McCain was the candidate with the most potential to address the GOP’s structural problems, and most probably the only one who could have done so at all. Sure, Mitt Romney would have been (far) more at ease talking about the economy, but would he have even been competitive by mid-September?

For any presidential or congressional Republican to win in 2008 requires him to convince voters that he is not a typical Republican and that he would represent a change from George Bush’s version of the GOP. To even be considered, the GOP’s presidential nominee would have to pass the change hurdle, prove that he is enough of a break with the Bush Administration to even merit being considered by voters.

Romney or Thompson could have been strong candidates in another cycle, but neither had what it took to distinguish themselves as atypical Republicans. Rudy Giuliani revealed himself to be a deeply flawed candidate, and he never even had that much of a shot of winning the nomination (his national lead obscured a catastrophic early state strategy).

By contrast, McCain had the brand, the reputation as an enemy of Bush and the appeal among independent to pull that off. But McCain never really did what he should have done; his campaign was too focused on winning daily news cycles to lay the groundwork for a broader message. Had McCain tried to actively distance himself from Bush starting in early June, national polls might be far tighter today; had he tried to seize on a few symbolic and high-profile issues to break from the president, he could have protected himself better from anti-Republican sentiment.

This was nowhere more evident than in McCain’s convention speech. As I wrote that night, McCain’s goal was finally strategically sound - persuade the electorate that McCain can belong to the GOP while still representing a true break from the past eight years. But the speech lacked the scope and the delivery to make a lasting impression, as McCain took no dramatic step that would stick in voters’ mind as a repudiation of Bush - just as he has not done so throughout the campaign.

That McCain failed to take advantage of his potential to run as an atypical Republican doesn’t mean that his former opponents would have done a better job. And given how bad the environment is (and has been) for Republicans for months, that McCain isn’t completely out of striking distance yet and was highly competitive as of mid-September is a testament to what might have been.


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In Republican attacks, Americanism emerges as insistent subtext

I have long faulted the McCain campaign’s inability to develop a consistent set of attacks against Barack Obama, one that would paint a coherent enough picture of the Democratic nominee for the Republican attacks to stick.

After all, who is the GOP’s Barack Obama? An inexperienced and naive ingenue, a good old tax-and-spend liberal or a dangerous radical who “pals around with terrorists?” For months, the McCain campaign has been going down all those paths, hoping one would stick. But these different Obamas don’t really fit together, and the GOP has not fully committed to an attack enough for Obama to be damaged. (The only time it did so was in late July/early August, when the celebrity ads noticeably tightened the race.)

But over the past few days, Republicans have raised their attacks to a whole new level, and, through the new extremism of the GOP’s rhetoric, disparate threads are being connected under the general rubric of anti-Americanism.

Consider the sheer number of high-profile Republicans who have accused Obama or his supporters of being anti-American this week. Michelle Bachmann’s rant was truly remarkable, but what is truly jaw-dropping is that it came just a day after Sarah Palin praised North Carolina as one of the “pro-America parts of the country” and a day before Nancy Pfotenhauer asserted that McCain was winning Real Virginia. Could these incidents truly be gaffes, or do they reveal the course the McCain campaign has chosen to pursue over the last 20 days?

But if Joseph McCarthy’s crusade and the GOP’s recent efforts to make Democrats look unpatriotic had to do with national security, the McCain campaign came to realize that Ayers-like accusations were not breaking through the coverage of the financial crisis. So how can Republicans attack Obama’s economic policies in a way that still makes him look like an unknown risk rather than the familiar figure of the tax-and-spend liberal? Out comes the S-word:

“At least in Europe, the Socialist leaders who so admire my opponent are upfront about their objectives. They use real numbers and honest language. And we should demand equal candor from Sen. Obama. Raising taxes on some in order to give checks to others is not a tax cut; it’s just another government giveaway.”

That was John McCain today in his weekly radio address. The Republican nominee also called Obama’s tax policies “welfare” (in what I suggested Thursday is his most explicit attempt yet to racialize the campaign). McCain and his surrogates have been attacking Obama’s “redistributionist” mentality for days now by using Obama’s conversation with Joe the Plumber and his saying “spread the wealth around.”

It’s not just Ayers or his disrespect for troops. By calling Obama’s economic policies “socialist,” Republicans are now aiming to make Obama’s economic policies look un-American as well.

This was most explicitly articulated in Bachmann’s MSNBC appearance yesterday, when the Minnesota Republican conflated the words “liberal,” “left-wing” and “un-American,” thus labeling most Democratic members of Congress with all three epithets. But Palin’s comments have to be understood in the same context: not only do “pro-America” parts of the country support the troops and wear the flag pin, they also reject socialism and redistribution of wealth, policies that are not only economically flawed but also foreign.

Remember that Joe the Plumber wasn’t just concerned that his taxes might rise, he was concerned that such a hike would betray the country’s traditions. He asked Obama, “Do you believe in the American dream?”

So there we have it, the McCain campaign’s closing argument. It is more powerful than anything Republicans have tried since they the celebrity ads because it answers the main challenge the GOP is facing this year: convince voters that, however desperately they want to vote for a Democrat, they shouldn’t consider this candidate. And Obama the Socialist is no longer Obama the Democrat, nor for that matter Obama the liberal; he becomes something unfamiliar that voters shouldn’t trust.

This is not to say that the strategy will succeed (or that it is succeeding). For one, we are 17 days from the election, not the time a campaign wants to reinvent its attack meme. There hasn’t been much suggestion up until this week that Obama’s economic policies were radical. Expensive, maybe, but certainly not radical. If the GOP wanted to implement this angle of attack, it should have planted the seeds weeks ago.

It will be especially difficult to effectively push this attack because of the financial disparity between the two campaigns. Obama has enough money to drown McCain’s ads, and it is Obama’s campaign that has been hammering its opponent’s economic policies and his health care plan over the past few weeks. In fact, Obama’s ads have done their best to make him appear as anti-Left as anti-conservative, with one of his first health care ad bashing “government-run health care” as hard as McCain’s system.

Third, this is a strategy that can very easily drift so far that it backfires. It is risky business to build your campaign on attacking your opponent’s patriotism, especially when McCain now needs to convince Democrats and independents to change sides. Bachmann and Palin’s comments certainly do not attract positive attention for the campaign and they are likely to turn off independents. Yet, how do you get your message across without going overboard in the space of 17 days? That’s just one of the many problems the McCain campaign will have to resolve as soon as possible.


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In new McCain strategy, a (big) hint of desperation

The new week was expected to bring a change in the McCain campaign, whose economic advisers had been reportedly working on new economic policies that McCain would unveil today in the run-up to the third and last presidential debate. As the economy continues to dominate the political conversation, it has become imperative for McCain to demonstrate a superior grasp on the issue, and substantial proposals are one step in that direction.

It appears that any such policy proposals have been tabled for now, as McCain and his advisers could not come to an agreement about which policies he should pursue. Politico describes a tense meeting yesterday that resulted in the termination of the campaign’s plans to dominate the news cycle this week by rolling out novel proposals. Once again - as I wrote at length a few days ago - McCain’s efforts are being hurt by his campaign’s tragic indecisiveness and by the widening (and increasingly public) divisions between Republican operatives.

(It is also possible that the McCain campaign chose to reserve a few new policy proposals for Wednesday’s debate for maximum effect. Remember, after all, that the upcoming debate is the one devoted to the economy, though you might not know the difference given that the financial crisis was at the center of the first two encounters as well.)

This is not to say that the McCain campaign is not trying something new today. His staff are saying the campaign has hit the “reset button” and McCain unveiled a new stump speech today, one that still stays away from Ayers but that has been adapted to the changing environment: McCain presented himself as the underdog, acknowledging that he is behind though, McCain added, “we’ve got them just where we want them.”

Republicans are trying to channel McCain’s legendary ability to pull off unexpected comebacks, in what is an obvious attempt to convince the media, the RNC and conservative activists to not write McCain off. If the McCain obituaries start piling up over the coming days, it could lead to a depressed GOP base and to the press no longer seriously covering McCain’s efforts - developments that would be fatal for McCain’s prospects.

Another primary goal of the new McCain strategy is to put more distance between the Arizona Senator and the incumbent president. The McCain campaign was evidently thinking that their candidate’s maverick reputation would be enough to convince voters that McCain is no Bush, but that is not what has happened and McCain used some of his toughest language yet against the incumbent Administration today. He declared, “We cannot spend the next four years as we have spent much of the last eight: waiting for our luck to change.” But is mid-October not too late to suddenly employ a more aggressive anti-Bush tone? As I have written many times before, McCain missed an opportunity in his convention speech to make a lasting impression on this issue.

Finally, McCain is using his new stump speech to once again change the tone of his attacks against the Illinois Senator.

Obama is accused of arrogance (”The media has written us off. Senator Obama is measuring the drapes”), a theme we had not heard much of since August. And the McCain campaign is unveiling a new argument that had surely been in the works for a while: the prospect of a unified Democratic government. McCain said that Obama “is planning with Speaker Pelosi and Senator Reid to raise taxes, increase spending, take away your right to vote by secret ballot in labor elections, and concede defeat in Iraq.” In other words, McCain is trying to convince voters that a Republican President is a necessary check on Congress, where Democrats are expected to increase their majorities.

The problem with that latter argument is that it sacrifices GOP candidates at the congressional level (”let them go down as long as you vote for me to keep a tab on their Democratic replacements”) without having much to show for it. It is unlikely that voters will think of their presidential choice as a way to check their congressional choice since they tend to consider their vote for president as the most important and primary one they will cast. If anything, it is congressional Democrats who could be hurt if voters become convinced that Obama will win the White House.

Overall, then, McCain’s new stump speech seems to have as little coherence as the rest of McCain’s offense over the past 6 weeks. Just over the past 9 days the campaign has repeatedly gone back and forth over the attacks it should employ, and it is hard to imagine how they could send any more mixed messages. Wright was off limits - then Palin talked about it to Kristol. Ayers was going to be talked about, but the promised ad didn’t come for days. Palin made Ayers a staple of her stump speech, then dropped it, then returned to it. And an increasing number of McCain surrogates have been using rhetoric that McCain had suggested he would stay away from: Obama’s middle-name has been evoked, Frank Keating crossed the line and drove a mile past it and the chair of the Virginia GOP explicitly compared Obama to Bin Laden. As for the GOP’s ACORN attack, it will be seriously diminished by ACORN’s reminder that McCain headlined an ACORN-sponsored event just two years ago.

With 22 days to go before Election, it is amazing that we still cannot figure out what the McCain campaign want voters to remember, what image of Obama they want undecided voters to take away - a remarkable parallel to the Clinton campaign that suggests the GOP learned very little from Hillary’s strategic failings. It is no surprise, then, that Obama’s favorability rating keeps increasing. The latest polls show that about 60% of voters now have a favorable impression of the Illinois Senator, a number that is showing no sign of decreasing. That voters are now favorably disposed towards Obama will make it that much more difficult for McCain to get anything to stick over the last three weeks of the campaign.

McCain has to hit the reset button and adapt his campaign since its previous strategies have not been working. But McCain’s new stump speech is more of a sign that his campaign is getting desperate than a sign that it has finally found a way to fight back.


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GOP in turmoil: McCain defends Obama, Palin hit by troopergate

McCain’s Minnesota town hall will surely be remembered as one of the campaign’s most remarkable moments - an event at which many of the subplots of this presidential race dramatically collided.

For the past week, as Obama has risen in the polls, Republican rallies have been become increasingly boisterous and the conservative faithful in attendance have been channeling their panic at the thought of losing in particularly vitriolic language. And there is nothing surprising in this for anyone who has been following this race: the underground smears propagated via viral emails have long been a part of the campaign.

What has been new this week has been that these rumors, hidden fears and xenophobic sentiments have surfaced for all to see: after all, anyone who has come to believe that Obama has a terrorist background and Muslim roots now has to envision the prospect of such a man winning the White House. No wonder that there is so much visceral anger being expressed at McCain’s rallies - “traitor,” “terrorist,” “kill him!” have all been shouted over the past few days.

At today’s town hall, McCain was confronted by these sentiments and he chose to reign them in by urging the audience not to be scared of Obama, whom he called a “decent person and a person you don’t have to be scared of as president of the United States.” He also asked the audience to be respectful of his opponent, a request that immediately attracted jeers. That led to the incredible spectacle of the Republican nominee being booed over and over again by an outraged audience who has grown to despise the Illinois Senator and who was now taking its anger out on their own party’s nominee.

And while a lot of McCain’s exchanges could be viewed as an opportunistic attempt to appeal to independents (he was, after all, confronted with similarly angry feelings at other events this week and he did not respond in such a chastising way), he did at least seem genuinely taken aback when a woman told him she believed Obama was Arab. “No ma’am,” interrupted McCain. “He’s a decent family man and citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that’s what this campaign’s all about.” TPM compiled all of these moments in a fascinating video that is worth a look:

[youtube="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kf6YKOkfFsE"]

McCain has been walking on a tight rope for weeks now, and even more so over the past few days. He has (remarkably) kept his word that he would not bring up Reverend Wright, to the dismay of many Republican operatives. Yet, his campaign slogan has become “Who is Barack Obama?” - a question that is meant to play on voters’ fears about Obama’s character and identity; for months now, McCain’s ads have been accusing Obama of disrespecting the troops, looking to put them in danger and refusing to meet them; as I said yesterday, Frank Keating’s description of Obama as a “guy of the street” are among the ugliest remarks uttered by a politician this year; McCain has been invoking Ayers with increasing frequency; and the former Weatherman has also been the topic of an RNC spot, a McCain web ad and a McCain TV ad.

Those ads go beyond pointing out that Obama has been associated with a former domestic terrorist; they claim that Obama has collaborated with a terrorist - a phrasing that implies that the subject of their collaboration was some type of terrorist project rather than an education board in Chicago. In other words, these ads do more than implicate Obama’s judgment, and they do more than imply he is at ease with political radicals; they suggest that there is something about Obama that in some sense justifies wondering whether he is a terrorist.

So while it would be unfair to say that McCain instigated all these hateful feelings or launched these smears since the viral e-mails were circulating months before McCain even became a serious contender for the Republican nomination, his general election campaign has not hesitated to channel those feelings and play on these fears - fears that have gotten so out of control that they are threatening to provoke a backlash and undermine the credibility of all the Republican attacks.

Now, McCain is urging his supporters to respect Obama, focus on issues differences and acknowledge that he is a “decent man” while at the same attacking Obama’s association with Bill Ayers and his disregard for the troops. Both efforts are highly publicized, so it is not like McCain is taking the high road publicly while smearing Obama under the radar. Can McCain benefit from the situation if independents see him taking on angry members of his own audience and thus don’t hold his Ayers ads against him? Or will this be the worse of both words - McCain looking incoherent, insincere and contradicting the substance of his own attacks?

But if the top of the ticket had a rough day today, it was nothing compared to that of Sarah Palin. The much awaited “trooperagate” report was finally released late this evening, and while a Palin spokesperson responded that the Governor felt “vindicated,” it is quite a stretch to think that the report constitutes good news for the GOP’s vice-presidential nominee. The report concludes that Palin was within her right to fire Public Safety Commissioner Monegan but it also finds that Palin abused her power, violated the law and breached the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act by urging subordinates to get her ex-brother in law fired and not prevent her husband from repeatedly contacting Monegan. (More detail about the report here and here. Download the pdf version here.)

The McCain campaign is already on the war path, seeking to discredit the investigative commission, but this will not be an easy task. This was a bipartisan committee with a number of Republicans, and the legislative council voted unanimously to make the report public. Furthermore, the report’s central findings don’t leave much room for interpretation and nuance, as abuse of power is never a label that sounds very good on a politician’s record. Finally, the McCain campaign cannot even curse the report’s timing or the unlucky fate that leads to all bad news coming at once: troopergate has been an issue for months, and the investigative report was already scheduled to be released in October before McCain tapped her. The McCain campaign must have known about this when they chose her and they apparently knowingly took the risk.

This will surely be damaging for Palin and could further deterioate an already shaky image; this will also be one more distraction for the McCain campaign to deal with. News that Palin violated the law is likely to be on the front page of countless newspapers today, costing the Republican ticket one of the campaign’s last news cycles at a time McCain can afford no distraction. If the GOP is trying to raise doubts about Obama and his past associations, it doesn’t help that there is a fresher, newer scandal involving the Republican vice-presidential candidate.

That said, the report should not be taken as an unmitigated calamity for the McCain campaign. I wrote after the vice-presidential debate that Palin and Biden no longer really mattered, and that remains the case tonight. Troopergete will be damaging to the extent that it throws the McCain campaign off its game, but it will know by itself change the minds of many voters. VP candidates are not a dominant preoccupation in mid-October, especially not when the economy is in turmoil.


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Negative campaigning, electoral map: The indecisiveness of the McCain campaign

Much was made last spring about the Clinton campaign’s organizational problems. Not a day passed without a new story popping up in which Clinton aides took their internal disagreements public, and the entire political class seemed intent on second guessing the campaign’s every single tactical decision.

When internal dissensions spill in the public domain and political obituaries get written before Election Day, it certainly means that a campaign is in big trouble - and that’s the territory Republicans have now entered.

There is a debate to be had about the effectiveness of bringing up Ayers this late in the campaign; there is no way every Republican will agree about which states the GOP should contest and which states it should concede. But the McCain campaign should have been decisive enough to make firm decisions and stick with them. Instead, they are going the Clinton way - plagued by internal quibbling, indecisiveness and incomprehensible tactical decisions.

The Wall Street Journal’s new story about disagreements in the campaign about how negative it should go contains obvious echoes to the Clinton days, as her campaign was consumed by disagreements between her top aides about whether to go all-out against the Illinois Senator. Neither side fully won that internal battle, and as a result Hillary’s tone rarely seemed consistent - and that prevented most of her attacks of really sticking.

Now, the McCain campaign has a similar problem. On the one hand, they seem committed to the idea that they should preserve some appearance of honor (for instance in McCain’s refusal to bring up Wright) and they are fearful that negativity will backfire (even though his own campaign released an ad tying Obama to Ayers this morning, McCain still refuses to talk about Ayers without being prompted).

On the other hand, they are throwing everything they have at Obama at this point to see what sticks. Both the RNC and the McCain camp have ads devoted to Ayers, and the GOP is now on the war path to tie Obama to ACORN. McCain rips into Obama using Ayers whenever he is asked about it, and Sarah Palin discussed Wright at length in an interview with Kristol this past week. And the McCain campaign is doing nothing to control the increasingly angry crowds that are populating GOP rallies - and nothing has the potential to backfire as much as these news stories from Republican events.

These are the rallies that a campaign organizes to get coverage in local news and local papers; yet, most of that coverage is now being devoted to latest soundbite coming from a McCain supporter rather than to a clip of the candidate himself, giving Democrats an opening to take the high road and dismiss attacks like Ayers as part of the GOP’s over-the-top hysterics. Obama is now blaming the Republican ticket for instilling “anger and division” in his audiences.

It doesn’t help, of course, that former top McCain strategic John Weaver is willing to blast the tactic choices of the men who replaced him any time a media outlet ask for his opinion. But how can we not come away thinking that the McCain campaign is unable to agree on a coherent strategy when Sarah Palin has been going around for the past two weeks contradicting most everything the campaign has been saying? She had obviously been charged with hitting Ayers through this past week-end, but her speaking about Wright with Kristol didn’t seem to have been planned by the campaign (she has avoided the subject since the Kristol interview even when directly asked about Wright).

Perhaps most remarkable is Palin’s questioning the campaign’s electoral college choices. It was amusing to hear her claim that she was traveling to Nebraska last Sunday simply because she wanted to see Nebraska. But for her to provide to repeatedly bring up her disappointment that her own campaign’s strategists had pulled out of Michigan was simply stunning. This is the kind of story a campaign wants to minimize as much as possible to avoid the impression that it is in a tight spot and to not anger the state’s residents any further - but Palin’s unnecessary comments kept the Michigan pull out in the news for 48 more hours and gave the impression of complete lack of communication at the top of the ticket.

In fact, McCain’s electoral map has attracted just as much second-guessing by pundits and by Republican operatives as the campaign’s offensive strategy. Michigan’s Republican Party pleaded for McCain’s return; Florida’s party officials convened an urgent secret meeting (which was quickly leaked to the press) two weeks ago to discuss the state of the campaign; many GOPers are dismayed that McCain has not put more effort into Virginia and is letting himself be outspent by truly huge margins; and the same complaint is now rising in Indiana, as most everyone is wondering why McCain has not spent any time in the Hoosier State.

The McCain campaign appears to be assuming that Indiana and Virginia will not fall unless other states like Ohio and Colorado have already fallen - making it unnecessary to defend them. This is folly! For one, Virginia has been tight since the fall of 2007 and Obama is looking strong there than in many other competitive red states at this point. Second, it might be true that Indiana would not fall before, say, Ohio if all things were equal - but that logic has to be tossed out of the window when one side is spending significant amounts of resources contesting the state and the other is (or was) nowhere to be found.

If the current situation holds until November 4th, McCain’s refusal to defend Indiana, North Carolina or Florida in the summer when there was still time will be remembered as the equivalent of Hillary Clinton not organizing in any of the February 5th caucus states.

Some of this is surely due to McCain’s financial situation, but a lot of it is just bad or/and indecisive decision-making. Nowhere is this better exemplified than by the campaign’s inexplicable decision of all (and one Republicans not affiliated with the campaign have been deriding all over the press) is the McCain campaign’s decision to continue investing significant amounts of money in Iowa.

Obama is ahead by double-digits in most recent polls of the state, and he will be able to rely on the organization he put in place in the run-up to the caucuses last year. Yet, McCain traveled there in late September, and he will be holding his only event this Saturday in Des Moines! So why is McCain spending money in Iowa when that cash could be much better used in, say, North Carolina?


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What is the McCain campaign up to?

The McCain campaign has 26 more days to figure out what it needs to do to derail Obama’s momentum, and they are showing little sign of having any idea themselves as GOP operatives have been sending contradictory signals for days now.

Throughout the week-end and early this week, Sarah Palin pounded the Illinois Senator for “palling around with terrorist,” and there were numerous reports that McCain’s camp was looking to unveil a new hard-hitting ad blasting Obama’s association with Ayers and Rezko after the debate. On Tuesday night, however, John McCain stayed away from denouncing Obama’s past associations; Sarah Palin did not talk about Ayers on the stump today; and 24 hours after the debate, there are still no ads devoted to Ayers and Rezko.

The signals given over Wright have been just as confusing: after numerous stories cited McCain aides saying that the Reverend was off-limits, Sarah Palin (certainly no ordinary surrogate) went on about Wright and his relevance to Obama’s character in an interview with Bill Kristol - and that certainly didn’t look like an unplanned gaffe (Kristol acknowledged that it sounded like Palin was being coached by staffers while on the phone with him).

Does this mean the McCain campaign changed course and suddenly got cold feet? Not so fast: Republicans are planning on continuing to bring up Ayers, and the campaign put out a statement today from a man who asserts that “Barack Obama’s friend tried to kill my family.” Furthermore, Cindy McCain delivered some of the hardest and most personal punches of the campaign, as she all but accused Obama of having put her son’s life in danger:

“The day that Sen. Obama cast a vote to not to fund my son when he was serving sent a cold chill through my body let me tell you. I would suggest Sen. Obama change shoes with me for just one day. I suggest he take a day and go watch our men and women deploying.”

So what is up with the McCain campaign? Why are surrogates (starting with Sarah Palin) attacking Obama’s past associations in dramatic terms before suddenly pulling back - all of this while the campaign hints that tougher attacks are still to come? How did the campaign enter in this strange middle-ground in which it shies away from hard-hitting attacks on the big state but does not hesitate to hurl ferocious insults, compare Obama to a terrorist and use his middle-name on the side?

A few days ago, I argued that McCain’s problem was offense, and that the campaign had taken its eyes off the goal (disqualifying Obama) and had dissolved into an incoherent set of jibes. But that no longer seems to be the case: to the extent that Republicans have been on the offensive over the past few days, they have been pounding Obama’s character with a focus that we had not seen since the first half of August. (Not to mention that we might as well give Republican strategists the benefit of the doubt - this is McCain’s last chance, so any mistake is likely to doom his prospects anyway.)

The McCain campaign is bringing up Ayers in relatively low-profile settings (stump speeches rather than debates, campaign statements rather than TV ads) to enjoy the benefits of going negative without suffering from the drawbacks, to anchor questions about Obama’s character into the political conversation without looking like they have done too much nasty work to push it there, to get the media to feel like it ought to cover Ayers without McCain appearing to have crossed the line.

Similarly, Republicans are hoping that Wright somehow makes his way into the conversation this month without the campaign having to do anything with it. McCain needs Wright to be raised - by the press, by 527s, anything - but he cannot afford to be associated with that attack.

This equilibrium is of course based on deception: it is motivated by the hope that the press will pick up on themes the McCain campaign is desperately pushing journalists to cover without the GOP actually looking like the aggressors.

In some ways, this strategy looks like it might be necessary indeed. For one, McCain has lost control of his public image over the past few weeks, as the media turned against his early September attacks to portray them as truth-stretching smears and as McCain’s performances in the two presidential debates have solidified the image of a mean-spirited and condescending candidate. The ugly scenes from GOP rallies over the past few days where crowds were whipped into a frenzy (there have been reports of racial slurs hurled at reporters, of cries of “Treason” and “Kill him” during Palin’s speeches) have done nothing to smooth a tension that undercuts the credibility of future McCain attacks and that hurts McCain’s favorability at a time he can ill afford to see them fall.

Second, Democrats might have scared the McCain campaign with their aggressive response over the week-end and their display of force in bringing up the Keating Five and unveiling a new website within hours. If the GOP was hoping that it could use October to go all-out against the Illinois Senator, Obama showed what the consequences of McCain’s going nuclear could be and demonstrated that he had weapons that he was keeping in store. Given that Obama has the financial resources to drown Republican attacks with attacks of his own, it is understandable that McCain is now reluctant to take the extra step that would likely result in total war - a war the GOP might not have the resources to win.

Yet, McCain faces a big problem with the course he has selected. Such attempts to change the narrative without being that obvious about it can be a highly intelligent electoral strategy in the heat of the summer or when the election is a neck-and-neck exercise of trench warfare. It is far less useful when a candidate is trailing widely with 26 days to go and with a massive economic meltdown occupying a lot of the press’s attention!

None of this is meant to say that William Ayers could be that game changer or that it is an effective attack for McCain to wage; that is another (very interesting) discussion altogether. All I am saying is that if McCain has decided that attacks on Obama’s character are the way to go, this half-hearted strategy will not do the trick.

McCain needs is a game changer, he needs it now, and he needs it to be dramatic enough that it pushes the stock market’s crash off of the front page: how can McCain convince the press that Ayers is an important subject for them to discuss when the Dow has plunged more than 1,000 points since Monday and when McCain has said nothing newsworthy enough to justify coverage of Obama’s past associations?

If McCain is going to take his attacks up a notch and halt this silly back-and-forth between his promise to avoid certain subjects and his dispatching surrogates to address them, he will need to do so soon. The closer an outburst is to Election Day, the easier it will be for Democrats to paint it as a desperate smear and the more McCain will look erratic. And with 26 days to go, every day is crucial - and right now every day that passes is a wasted opportunity for the Republican ticket. The window is rapidly closing for McCain to come back in the race.


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McCain suspends campaign, pulls ads and seeks to delay debate (Update: McCain wants delay to VP debate!)

After a brief bounce in the aftermath of the GOP convention, McCain had been falling behind and the race was settling back in its mid-August form. With the Wall Street meltdown shifting the conversation to the economy, he had lost the control of the narrative - something no trailing candidate can afford to do. And with his back once again against the wall, McCain decided to take the same route as his late August stunner and once again take a huge gamble.

41 days from Election Day, everything a presidential campaign does is about politics. And McCain’s dramatic decision to suspend his campaign to return to Washington and focus on the financial crisis is an obvious attempt to shake up the race.

(This is certainly not to say that McCain’s move is bound to fail. Remember that Huckabee’s comically transparent attempt to go negative against Romney while enjoying the benefits of staying positive in the final days of Iowa was mocked by many - and Huckabee triumphed in the caucuses.)

McCain’s goal is clear: His early September surge was due to his successfully recasting himself as a maverick and a reformer, intent on putting his “country first” and partisanship and party second. But that image appears to have dissipated already, and as I argued in my analysis of McCain’s acceptance speech, he did not use striking enough language or policy proposals to durably differentiate himself from Bush. Well, his campaign clearly views the financial crisis as an opportunity to put McCain’s speech in action and cast the Arizona Senator as a leader who can take the initiative in a time of crisis.

Beyond those obvious consideration, the McCain campaign might be thinking that delaying Friday’s debate would be a way to make sure voters pay attention to the foreign policy debate. After all, viewers might not pay that much attention to candidates talking about Bin Laden, Iran and Georgia in the midst of a financial crisis - but it is essential for McCain that voters pay a lot of attention to the national security debate, which might be one of McCain’s only occasions to shift the discussion from the economy to terrorism. If the debate is delayed until after a bailout plan is passed, national security topics would probably seem more relevant to voters.

This obviously puts Obama in a difficult position: he cannot entirely dismiss McCain’s move without looking like they are putting the campaign above the country’s interest, and he cannot entirely accept it since it would allow McCain to shine. In other words, Obama needs to follow McCain enough to not appear to be playing partisan politics but distance himself from him enough to not cede McCain a leadership role.

This is indeed the dual strategy Democrats have used over the past two hours. On the one hand, Obama acknowledged the seriousness of the financial situation and the need to “rise above” parties and appear open to reaching an arrangement to suspend some of the campaigning. “What I’ve told the leadership in Congress is that if I can be helpful then I am prepared to be anywhere, anytime,” Obama said. On the other hand, Democrats moved to cast McCain’s maneuver as an inappropriate stunt fueled by electoral consideration. “What I think is important is that we don’t suddenly infuse Capitol Hill with presidential politics,” Obama said, echoing Reid’s forceful statement that had implied McCain was after a “photo-op.”

And as he insisted that the debate should take place, Obama suggested McCain was not able to multitask, in what could be a subtle reminder of McCain’s age, “Presidents are going to have to deal with more than one thing at a time.” It is unclear what will happen if Obama presses ahead with the debate and McCain continues to resist. The debate commission and the University of Mississippi have said they will continue preparations, but what happens if the campaigns are still at odds about this on Friday night? Who blinks first?

Needless to say, this is a developing situation, and a lot could change in the next few hours. It is too early to tell whether McCain’s move will be yet another shrewd game-changer that infuses some life in his campaign or whether Obama’s quick reaction will be enough to deprive McCain of a leadership role. While McCain has a lot to gain, he also stands to lose if this comes to be seen as a strange and unnecessary move. And the Obama campaign also needs to deal with this situation very carefully, as the GOP is now watching for any move Obama might take that would allow them to paint him as putting his campaign first.

In particular, it will be very interesting to see whether Obama follows McCain’s lead and tries to pull his campaign ads for a few days. Indeed, while it might be understandable for McCain to propose that the candidates go back to DC this week rather than last (since the bailout debate is occurring right now), it is more puzzling that the McCain campaign thought the financial crisis was an opportunity to air ad after ad hitting Obama last week, but that the same crisis now demands a suspension of advertising. As with most things political, how all of this plays out will also depend on how much cynisism the press uses in its coverage.

Update: Incredibly enough, SUSA went in the field this afternoon and came out with a quick snap poll of a 1000 adults across the country. Only 10% say the debate should be postponed, and 46% say it would be bad for America if it were to not take place. Only 14% say that it is a good idea for a candidate to suspend his campaign. Naturally, take this with a HUGE grain of salt, as it is a mid-day poll at a time many people aren’t at home and before most voters really get a sense of what is going on… but certainly interesting preliminary numbers.

Update #2: Wow. I joked to friends two hours ago that the McCain campaign might use a delay to Friday’s debate as a way to get rid of the Palin-Biden debate… but I did not really expect to be proven right so quickly. The current McCain proposal: Put the first presidential debate on October 2nd (the date of the VP debate), and move the VP debate to an undetermined date at the University of Mississippi where the first debate was to be held. It is for now unclear why the VP debate could not stay in its place and the presidential debate could not be rescheduled. Also, why is McCain giving an interview to ABC News after he announces he will suspend his campaign?


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McCain seizes populist tone to portray himself as change agent

Given that Hillary Clinton’s 3am ad will be remembered as one of the campaign’s defining developments and that John McCain’s main argument against his rival is to challenge his readiness, it is somewhat ironic that the year’s most dramatic 3am moment is benefiting… Obama.

The economy is always the Democrats’ favorite issue to discuss, even more so this year. A struggling economy hurts the incumbent party, and the Wall Street meltdown is of such large proportions that it makes it impossible for the media to cover anything else. The contrast to last week is remarkable: This is not a time for “distractions” to dominate the political conversation, and had Obama used the lipstick expression this week it would not even have made the headline of Drudge.

As I explained two days ago, McCain did not help himself with a series of missteps that plagued his campaign’s reaction to the financial crisis and ruined his momentum the first few days of the week. Since then, McCain has taken a more aggressive tone that has allowed him to limit the damage. McCain will not win based on anything he says about the economy, but he can do his best to neutralize the issue. If McCain convinces voters that he knows enough about the economy, feels their pain and would be more competent and proactive than the Bush Administration, he could cross an acceptability threshold on economic issues in the minds of voters.

McCain’s goal is first and foremost to show that he has a detailed plan to address the financial crisis, as this is one of those rare moments in presidential politics in which voters are likely to listen to detailed bullet points. But McCain also needs to convince voters that he would reform Washington and act as a change agent. This is, of course, the argument he has embraced since he picked Sarah Palin, but his plan was to rely on her to make the GOP ticket one of change. That is no longer possible now that the conversation has turned to such substantive issues and that everyone is looking at the presidential nominees.

Now, it is through his policy proposals that McCain needs to sound like a change agent - and that is obviously not an easy thing to do for a 26-year Washington insider who belongs to the same party as the incumbent Administration. This is why he has seized a populist tone, is blaming Wall Street greed (”mismanagement and greed became the operating standard while regulators were asleep at the switch”) and has turned into an advocate of regulation. His most high-profile declaration (that he would fire SEC Chairman Cox) came under fire as the president does not have the authority to dismiss the head of an independent agency - so much so that the Wall Street Journal criticizes him today. “This assault on Mr. Cox is both false and deeply unfair. It’s also un-Presidential,” says the Journal.

The question, of course, is how credible McCain’s populist rhetoric will sound to voters. In a sense, this is only an extension of the question of whether McCain is credible as a change agent. The latest New York Times poll suggested that he was not, but other surveys had showed that voters were viewing him as more of a reformer than they had earlier in the year. That the Washington Post’s editorial page is defending McCain’s consistency as a regulation advocate certainly cannot hurt. As I said above, McCain should treat this as an opportunity to convince voters that he is not “more of the same” by taking on the president and proposing policies that are radically at odds with what the Administration is doing.

That is something I argued he should have done in his acceptance speech, but that he shied away from then. And it doesn’t looks like the McCain campaign is ready to embrace this moment, as they are wasting their time attacking Obama’s connections in a way that is bound to backfire. The campaign released an ad last night tying Obama to former Fannie Mae CEO Franklin Raines, in an obvious attempt to challenge Obama’s reformist credentials. But given how many controversial advisers McCain himself has, is this really the best road to take when McCain faces more of a hurdle in convincing voters that he represents change?

The Obama campaign wasted no time releasing an ad of its own, linking McCain to Carly Fiorina, Phil Gramm and President Bush; and it released a memo of McCain’s own ties to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Given that McCain’s spot was most likely designed only for the cable shows, this means that these shows will show Obama’s spot along with McCain’s, and newspaper articles covering one will cover the other. McCain’s spot is thus unlikely to serve any purpose, quite the contrary: He has more work to do to convince voters that he is a change agent, so this latest exchange will hurt him more.


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McCain’s new change strategy is a risky one

We learned last Friday that McCain likes to gamble, and its new-found determination to wrestle the mantle of change away from Obama is yet another example of that.

Not only should the Republican ticket not be blamed for the failures of the Bush Administration, the GOP is now saying, but McCain is most apt at taking the country in a new direction. Forget experience, forget familiarity, forget patriotism: Even if voters just think about who represents true change, they should settle on McCain.

This is a revolutionary departure from what we expected the GOP’s general election argument to be. Sure, we knew that McCain needed to show that he is enough of a break with the Bush Administration to even be considered by voters, but that was meant to serve as a prelude to an argument over experience. For much of the spring and summer, that is the tactic Republicans used: By blasting Obama as an enigmatic and unprepared novice, they were hoping to get voters fearful of voting for this Democrat, however much they would want the Democratic Party in power.

The GOP is likely to continue voicing that argument, and it was an undertone of the Republican convention. But it was not the priority, nor does it appear like it will be over the next few weeks. This is obviously a huge risk on the part of the McCain campaign. For one, their experience argument was actually working, as Obama was on the defensive throughout August and as his lead slowly dwindled. Republicans still had a lot of work to do to make voters have enough doubts about Obama to desert the Democratic ticket, but they were certainly on the right path.

Second, change is Obama’s strong point, and it is very dangerous for Republicans to push voters to think about who is the true change agent. This is not just because Obama uses the word “change” a lot - undecided voters worry that it is an empty slogan - but because of his party label. Obama is a Democrat. Democrats represent change from a Republican Administration whose approval rating is dismally low.

The equation is rather simple, but McCain is now intent on disrupting it by running as an anti-Bush maverick who would shake up the GOP and throw out the Bush cronies. there were suggestions of that throughout the convention, especially in Lieberman and McCain’s speeches week, and if he takes it far enough this could very well be a winning strategy that brings rewards to McCain.

But the second part of McCain’s strategy - to argue that Democrats are part of the ruling class and are thus as responsible for the country’s problems - is a risky one that could easily backfire.

On Wednesday night of the Republican convention, the speakers did their best to convince voters that they had been out of power for the past eight years and like they were the ones running against the incumbent party, as they stunningly railed against the establishment and Washington. In a new ad released yesterday, the McCain campaign continues that strategy by associating Obama with (completely unknown)  congressional Democrats. The ad appropriates Obama’s slogan, calling him “more of the same:”

That the faces to which Obama is being associated are those of Sens. Leahy, Dorgan, Dodd, Reid and Schumer is emblematic of the strategy’s problem: Do Republicans truly believe that in this election year “liberal congressional Democrats” are as effective boogeymen as Bush, especially when no swing voter is going to recognize and react to any of these faces? (If anything, North Dakota voters might be offended by the spot, as Dorgan is popular in his home state, so it’s a good thing for McCain his ad isn’t running there.)

Republicans believe that the electorate’s mood is anti-incumbent, not anti-Republican. They also believed that in 2006, though they ended up losing 31 House seats and 6 Senate seats while Democrats lost none. The GOP is betting that will change now that Congress is in Democratic hands and that congressional approval ratings are at all-time lows, but are voters blaming congressional Democrats, or is that just part of the package of their hatred for what Washington has become? (Do most voters even know that Congress is in Democratic hands?) The fact that the electorate’s partisan identification has continued to shift towards Democrats in the past two years is a sign that the electorate is primarily blaming Republicans, not all incumbents.

Ultimately, voters are unlikely to ever think of Obama as “more of the same” - at least not in a sense they might hold against him. In fact, it would be a good thing for Obama to look like he is “the same” as other Democrats. Voters’ primary fear is that Obama is too different, and Obama has been doing his best to make his story, his background more familiar to voters. Voters want a Democrat but are unsure about this Democrat, so would they not be reassured that Obama is like others in his party?

If Obama is just another liberal Democrat, can he also be an enigmatic and unknown figure verging on the Manchurian candidate, with suspicious allegiances? “Who is Obama?” has been a subtext of conservative attacks, and here McCain is supplying a response: Just a congressional Democrat, just like all these other old white men so harmless that you haven’t even heard of them before. That might be a liability every other year, but not in 2008, not for a black candidate some voters have trouble connecting to.

Another major innovation of this ad is that it will run in Florida! As we have often talked about, Obama has been airing ads in the state since June, while McCain has stayed out, ceding Florida’s airwaves to the Democrat. But that will no longer be the case, which should reassure Republicans who were worried that McCain’s silence in Florida was giving an opening to Obama. It is however puzzling that McCain waited for September to invest in the Sunshine State. Once a candidate is restricted by public financing, he typically cuts the number of states he is investing in rather than adding to them.

Can McCain sustain his investment in all 12 states in which he is now advertising, particularly with numbers in North Carolina, Indiana and Montana (all states in which McCain is not playing) continuing to be close? Can McCain entirely rely on the RNC to organize those red-leaning states in which the McCain campaign cannot afford to invest?

As for Democrats, they ought to have mixed feelings about those few weeks in which they had Florida’s airwaves to themselves. Obama was trailing widely in Florida throughout the spring, but he stormed back to make Florida a toss-up, seizing his first poll lead in late June and leading in a number of polls in July. But as the campaign narrative shifted in August, McCain climbed back into a relatively consistent advantage (here is Florida’s summer polling history). As we head into the final stretch, Florida’s 27 electoral votes lean towards McCain, though the state remains highly competitive.



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    Strict Standards: mktime(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 41

    Strict Standards: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 50

    Strict Standards: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 52

    Strict Standards: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 54

    Strict Standards: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 55
  • What remains on the table

  • Strict Standards: mktime(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 41

    Strict Standards: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 50

    Strict Standards: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 52

    Strict Standards: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 54

    Strict Standards: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 55

    Strict Standards: mktime(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 41

    Strict Standards: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 50

    Strict Standards: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 52

    Strict Standards: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 54

    Strict Standards: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 55
  • Confusion in Connecticut (Updated)

  • Strict Standards: mktime(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 41

    Strict Standards: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 50

    Strict Standards: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 52

    Strict Standards: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 54

    Strict Standards: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 55

    Strict Standards: mktime(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 41

    Strict Standards: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 50

    Strict Standards: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 52

    Strict Standards: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 54

    Strict Standards: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 55
  • Results thread, part 2: Dems suffer staggering losses in House and legislatives races, limit damage in statewide races

  • Strict Standards: mktime(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 41

    Strict Standards: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 50

    Strict Standards: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 52

    Strict Standards: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 54

    Strict Standards: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 55

    Strict Standards: mktime(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 41

    Strict Standards: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 50

    Strict Standards: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 52

    Strict Standards: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 54

    Strict Standards: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 55
  • Election Night results thread: Rep. Boucher’s fall first surprise of the night

  • Strict Standards: mktime(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 41

    Strict Standards: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 50

    Strict Standards: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 52

    Strict Standards: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 54

    Strict Standards: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 55

    Strict Standards: mktime(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 41

    Strict Standards: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 50

    Strict Standards: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 52

    Strict Standards: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 54

    Strict Standards: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 55
  • Election night cheat sheet

  • Strict Standards: mktime(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 41

    Strict Standards: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 50

    Strict Standards: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 52

    Strict Standards: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 54

    Strict Standards: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 55

    Strict Standards: mktime(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 41

    Strict Standards: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 50

    Strict Standards: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 52

    Strict Standards: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 54

    Strict Standards: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 55
  • Final ratings: Democrats brace for historic losses

  • Strict Standards: mktime(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 41

    Strict Standards: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 50

    Strict Standards: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 52

    Strict Standards: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 54

    Strict Standards: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 55

    Strict Standards: mktime(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 41

    Strict Standards: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 50

    Strict Standards: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 52

    Strict Standards: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 54

    Strict Standards: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 55
  • What to watch for down-ballot

Strict Standards: mktime(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 41

Strict Standards: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 50

Strict Standards: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 52

Strict Standards: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 54

Strict Standards: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 55

Strict Standards: mktime(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 41

Strict Standards: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 50

Strict Standards: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 52

Strict Standards: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 54

Strict Standards: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EST/-5.0/no DST' instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/functions.php on line 55

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/kses.php on line 1002

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/kses.php on line 1003

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/kses.php on line 1002

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/kses.php on line 1003

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/kses.php on line 1002

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/kses.php on line 1003

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/kses.php on line 1002

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/kses.php on line 1003

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/kses.php on line 1002

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/kses.php on line 1003

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/kses.php on line 1002

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/kses.php on line 1003

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/kses.php on line 1002

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/kses.php on line 1003

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/kses.php on line 1002

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/kses.php on line 1003

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/kses.php on line 1002

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/kses.php on line 1003

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/kses.php on line 1002

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/kses.php on line 1003

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/kses.php on line 1002

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/kses.php on line 1003

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/kses.php on line 1002

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/kses.php on line 1003

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/kses.php on line 1002

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/kses.php on line 1003

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/kses.php on line 1002

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/kses.php on line 1003

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/kses.php on line 1002

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/kses.php on line 1003

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/kses.php on line 1002

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/kses.php on line 1003

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/kses.php on line 1002

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/kses.php on line 1003

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/kses.php on line 1002

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/kses.php on line 1003

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/kses.php on line 1002

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/kses.php on line 1003

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/kses.php on line 1002

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/kses.php on line 1003

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/kses.php on line 1002

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/kses.php on line 1003

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/kses.php on line 1002

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/kses.php on line 1003

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/kses.php on line 1002

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/kses.php on line 1003

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/kses.php on line 1002

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/kses.php on line 1003

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/kses.php on line 1002

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/kses.php on line 1003

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/kses.php on line 1002

Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /homepages/33/d214989360/htdocs/wp-includes/kses.php on line 1003

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