GOP Sharpens Attacks on Obama

By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 30, 2008

CLEVELAND -- Sen. John McCain's allies have seized on a new and aggressive line of attack against Sen. Barack Obama, casting the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee as an opportunistic and self-obsessed politician who will do and say anything to get elected.

McCain typically leaves the sharpened criticism to others, in the hope of being able to claim the high ground of conducting a "respectful" campaign. But the abrupt shift in tone among his paid staff members, volunteer surrogates and other Republican staples of the cable news circuit is unmistakable, and it resembles the unified message the GOP used to paint the 2004 Democratic candidate, Sen. John F. Kerry, as a flip-flopper.

It also reflects a growing belief among McCain's strategists that the campaign for the White House will be won or lost based on voters' view of Obama's character. In a strategy memo released Thursday, McCain's top political adviser accused Obama of "self-serving partisanship."

"In his time on the national stage, he has consistently put his party and his self-interest first," McCain strategist Steve Schmidt said in the memo. "We have seen Barack Obama forced to choose between principle and the interests of himself and his party. He has always chosen the latter."

Schmidt said in an interview that the campaign intends to point out "every day" that Obama broke his promise to accept public financing for his campaign, and that he has not made good on his pledge to debate his Republican opponent anytime and anywhere.

"It's a statement of fact that he discards people, and he discards positions when they become inconvenient for him," Schmidt said Friday. "When politicians say one thing and then do another, like Senator Obama has done, voters wonder about the steadfastness of the character of the person sitting in the Oval Office."

Obama spokesman Bill Burton said he is not surprised by the sharp attacks from McCain's surrogates: "It's our view that's exactly the politics that the American people are sick and tired of. The only ideas they have to promote are the failed ones for the last eight years."

Targeting a politician's character flaws is a time-tested strategy, but it is a complicated argument for McCain, who has also shifted his positions in the course of the campaign. This month, with gasoline prices soaring, the Republican reversed his position on offshore oil drilling.

The aggressive rhetoric aimed at Obama began to emerge June 22, when Sen. Lindsey O. Graham, a national co-chairman of the McCain campaign, appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press." The normally collegial senator from South Carolina took direct aim at Obama's integrity.

"He's a calculating politician," Graham said. "The bottom line about Barack Obama, whatever the position -- whether it be Iraq, campaign finance reform, public financing -- he's going to take a tack that allows him to win. He wants to win beyond anything else, even more than keeping his word."

That theme was repeated Thursday in a conference call with reporters about the Supreme Court's decision to affirm the Second Amendment right to own a gun. McCain adviser Randy Scheunemann complained about what he called Obama's constantly changing positions.

"What's becoming clear in this campaign," he said, is that Obama "has demonstrated that there is no position he holds that isn't negotiable. He will say or do anything if it furthers his political purposes."

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