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Houses Add Up to A Snag for McCain

Campaign Has Cast Obama as Elitist

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama campaigned in Chester, Va., on Thursday alongside Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine. Obama attacked John McCain over the Republican's recent comment on how many houses he owns. Video by AP
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By Jonathan Weisman and Robert Barnes
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, August 22, 2008

Sen. John McCain's inability to recall the number of homes he owns during an interview yesterday jeopardized his campaign's carefully constructed strategy to frame Democratic rival Barack Obama as an out-of-touch elitist and inspired a round of attacks that once again ratcheted up the negative tone of the race for the White House.

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A week dominated by vice presidential speculation and the run-up to the Democratic National Convention was quickly overtaken by the McCain miscue. In an interview with Politico.com, the presumptive Republican nominee was asked how many houses he and his wife, Cindy, heir to a beer distributorship, owned.

"I think -- I'll have my staff get to you," McCain replied. "It's condominiums where -- I'll have them get to you."

Obama's campaign and the Democratic National Committee pounced with remarkable speed. By mid-morning, reporters had received a video log featuring Cindy McCain's childhood estate in Phoenix, an Architectural Digest spread on another property the McCains had owned previously, and tax records and photos detailing seven houses and condominiums -- in Coronado and La Jolla, Calif.; Phoenix and Sedona, Ariz.; and Arlington. By 11 a.m., the Obama campaign had produced a television advertisement titled "Seven" and was answering the question McCain could not.

"It's seven, seven houses, and here's one house Americans can't afford John McCain to move into," the ad concludes over an image of the White House. (If a California beachfront condo that Cindy McCain purchased for their children this year is included, the number of homes owned by the McCains rises to eight.)

That provoked a furious response by McCain campaign and Republican National Committee aides, who charged hypocrisy and argued that the senator from Illinois had received help purchasing his South Side Chicago mansion from businessman Tony Rezko, a convicted felon.

"Does a guy who made more than $4 million last year, just got back from vacation on a private beach in Hawaii and bought his own million-dollar mansion with the help of a convicted felon really want to get into a debate about houses?" asked McCain spokesman Brian Rogers.

The senator from Arizona also quickly assembled a response ad, in which a narrator intones, "Barack Obama knows a lot about housing problems." The spot raises Obama's relationship with Rezko, saying that "one of Obama's biggest fundraisers helped him buy his million-dollar mansion," and charges that in return "Rezko got political favors."

By the day's end, the Democratic National Committee was threatening to escalate the fight further by highlighting McCain's connections to the "Keating Five" savings and loan scandal, in which the senator ended up before the Senate ethics committee.

"They go Rezko, we go Keating," said a Democratic strategist, speaking on the condition of anonymity to divulge potential campaign strategy. "If they want to escalate, bring it on."

For a Democratic candidate suffering from a barrage of attacks on his "celebrity," McCain's inability to recall the scope of his family holdings was a timely break.

"I guess . . . if you don't know how many houses you have, then it's not surprising that you might think the economy was fundamentally strong," Obama told an audience in Chester, Va. "But if you're like me, and you've got one house, or you are like the millions of people who are struggling right now to keep up with their mortgage so they don't lose their home, you might have a different perspective."

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