By Jonathan Weisman and Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, August 9, 2008
With Barack Obama stepping off the playing field for a week-long Hawaiian vacation, John McCain's campaign released three new attack ads yesterday, signaling that the senator from Arizona would use the void to continue pummeling the character of his rival for the White House.
Obama's trip to Hawaii, where he spent much of his youth, comes after a week in which his Republican opponent dominated the news with his negative assault. Obama aides said the senator from Illinois is maintaining his lead in polls and will not be goaded into responding with character attacks of his own.
But the assaults on him continued yesterday, with new television ads and a radio spot portraying Obama as a lightweight celebrity intent on raising taxes across the board.
"Life in the spotlight must be grand," a female announcer declares to paparazzi-like images of Obama and adoring chants in the background. "But for the rest of us, times are tough."
That advertisement and a Spanish-language ad and radio spot claim Obama voted to raise taxes on families earning just $42,000, a claim based on his vote for a nonbinding, Democratic budget resolution that allows all of President Bush's tax cuts to expire in 2011, something Obama has promised he would not let happen.
Obama campaign spokesman Hari Sevugan called the ad "a lie" and "part of the old, tired politics of a party in Washington that has run out of ideas and run out of steam."
But McCain aides showed little concern for such niceties. "Like it would have crossed our minds to let up on the guy just because he's on vacation?" asked Charles R. Black Jr., one of McCain's top advisers, as McCain flew from Iowa to Arkansas yesterday.
Many Democrats are increasingly worried that trying to debunk the McCain attacks will not be enough, particularly with the candidate on vacation. The Republican National Committee mocked Obama with "Barack Obama's Hawaii Travel Guide," noting the elite prep school he attended on scholarship and highlighting a Chevron station selling gasoline for $4.78 a gallon.
Obama did counter by airing a radio advertisement in Ohio taking McCain to task over the fact that his campaign manager lobbied on behalf of a German freight-shipping company, DHL, that is laying off over 8,000 Ohioans and moving its operations to Kentucky.
But an issue-based counterattack to McCain's character assault is not enough, worried Democrats say.
"It literally is the same old Democratic, consultant-driven politics," said Matt Stoller, a Democratic political consultant and blogger. "It's the same attempt not to tell a story about the country and the other guy, but to prove you're right, like an academic debating seminar."
The McCain campaign challenged Obama's ad in a conference call with Wilmington, Ohio, resident Mary Houghtaling, who in July tearfully challenged McCain to help with the job losses, then yesterday praised the Republican while castigating Obama and calling for his campaign to take the radio ad off the air. The hospice founder, whose husband is a pilot for DHL facing a layoff, joined in the attack, saying that "Obama's going to be in Hawaii, swimming."
With Obama off the stage, the Democratic National Committee next week will try to take up the slack, delivering birthday cakes on the Aug. 14 anniversary of Social Security to McCain and Republican state headquarters and hitting McCain's support for carving out private investment accounts from fixed Social Security benefits. On Tuesday, the DNC plans to hold what it calls a national day of action to paint McCain as a captive of Exxon Mobil.
For all the media attention on McCain's ads, Obama campaign manager David Plouffe argued that the most important event of the campaign this week was McCain's trip to Ohio amid coverage of his and lobbyist-turned-campaign manager Rick Davis's role in helping DHL take over U.S.-based Airborne Express, and the subsequent loss of Ohio jobs.
"John McCain can now become an emblem for what's wrong with Washington," Plouffe said, noting that McCain cannot win the White House without Ohio. "By November 4 in the Cincinnati and Dayton media markets, this will be something known by every voter."
During Obama's vacation week, his campaign will be focused on organizing in the 18 states his campaign has identified as battlegrounds, registering voters and focusing on local media.
"We have a game plan and a strategy, and we're going to continue to execute it. We're not going to be terribly worried about people playing armchair quarterback," Plouffe said. "By November 4, there are character dimensions to John McCain that are going to be clear."
McCain starts his week in Pennsylvania, where he will stump across the state with its former governor and possible vice presidential choice Tom Ridge. On Tuesday, he heads to New Jersey. McCain's campaign confirmed that the senator would will probably take his own vacation in the week before the Democratic National Convention. The senator plans to retreat to his home in Sedona, Ariz., where he owns a cabin and several other houses along a river, spending several days there before returning to the campaign trail during the Democratic convention in late August.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), still trying to squelch concerns about disunity among Democrats, campaigned for Obama yesterday in Henderson, Nev., and encouraged her supporters to fall in line.
"Anyone who voted for me or caucused for me has so much more in common with Senator Obama than with Senator McCain," she said. "Remember who we were fighting for in my campaign."