"If I wasn't a celebrity. . ."

This may be the closest thing to good PR that Britney Spears or Paris Hilton have had in months. Being compared to a presidential candidate is far different than their usual depictions in the weekly glossies and on celebrity gossip blogs.

But for the presidential candidate? That comparison sparked a back and forth on the campaign trail today that had little to do with the issues but a lot to do with personality and image – and maybe a healthy dose of media coverage envy.

John McCain's campaign released a new ad today that blends together images of Barack Obama and tabloid mainstays Spears and Hilton, and asks "He's the biggest celebrity in the world. But is he ready to lead?"

The McCain campaign defended the ad with a memo, conference call and statements from campaign officials. The Obama campaign fired back and quoted Spears circa 2000 ("Oops he did it again!")

"It's beyond dispute that he has become the biggest celebrity in the world," McCain campaign strategist Steve Schmidt told reporters on a conference call, per ABC News' David Wright. "But do the American people really want to elect the biggest celebrity in the world?"

From Wright: "Asked why the campaign chose these particular celebrities to compare with Obama, campaign manager Rick Davis answered matter-of-factly, as though the comparison were obvious and indisputable: 'What we decided to do was find the top 3 international celebrities in the world.  Britney and Paris came in second and 3rd,' he said."

Will McCain's ad work? Let's give that 24 hours to percolate. McCain campaign and Republican officials are not worried that voters may deem this ad just another negative attack from a candidate with a bad case of sour grapes.

What the ad may tell us is that the McCain campaign finally has settled on a strategy that they will employ daily: take down Obama, with a battering personal blows if necessary, in order to make him an unacceptable choice for president. (See the RNC's new web site, The Obama Audacity Watch.)

The Obama campaign responded late today with their own ad, titled "Low Road." Not surprising, it leads with the phrase "politics of the past." Tag line: "John McCain. Same old politics. Same failed policies."

Oh and that McCain ad? It was about energy. . . and Obama's response talked about that too.

McCain and Obama are both talking abut the economy on Thursday. McCain is in Racine WI for a town hall meeting and Obama focuses on economic security in Cedar Rapids, IA.

Paying down the debt. . .

Governor Bill Richardson is doing his part to unite the Democratic party today, announcing he will hold two August fundraisers for Senator Hillary Clinton in his home state of New Mexico, ABC News' Sarah Amos reports.

Per Amos, Richardson will hold two invitation-only events on August 17th.  "One event in Santa Fe will be hosted by Dave Contarino, Governor Richardson's former campaign manager and long time strategist.  The second event will take place in Albuquerque and will be hosted by a well-known New Mexico businessman.  Clinton will be in attendance for both fundraisers."

Amos notes that Richardson has often been one of the strongest voices to call for party unity among Democrats and personally promised to be involved in helping to retire Clinton's debt. (Will this heal the hurt feelings between Richardson and the Clintons?)

On the campaign front. . .

JOHN MCCAIN

-- 1:00 pm ET: Attends town hall meeting with voters, Racine, WI.

BARACK OBAMA

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