The Note: Populism Now

GUSTAVUS, Ohio -- Where are Mitt Romney and Hillary Clinton when you need them?

Now that the campaign has devolved into full-on populism, remember that we've been here before -- and the memories aren't good ones for either candidate.

As ABC's "50 States in 50 Days" tour rolls through Ohio -- where the jobs are leaving, the economy is struggling, and voters are sick of empty promises -- remember the last time populism ruled the process.

It was the closest Sen. John McCain came to losing his grasp on the nomination, when Romney won Michigan with a fight-for-every-job rallying cry. It was also the closest Sen. Barack Obama came to losing the nomination, when Clinton ran off a series of late victories (including in Ohio) that almost cost him the prize he'd basically already won.

So it is that neither of the candidates is particularly good at the game they are both earnestly trying to play. (And two unfortunate surrogate statements plus one unfortunately timed Hollywood fundraiser tells you again that they'd rather be playing something else.)

"John McCain and Barack Obama are both calling for tougher financial regulations as Wall Street faces its deepest crisis since the Depression. Yet Obama's record in this area is thin, and McCain has spent most of his quarter-century in Congress advocating deregulation," Bloomberg's Alison Fitzgerald and Christopher Stern report.

And yet: "Enough is enough," McCain declares in his latest ad (bringing back the experience message, and now wholeheartedly embracing government intervention).

"The truth is that while you've been living up to your responsibilities Washington has not. That's why we need change. Real change," says Obama, in a new two-minute ad.

Here's how McCain argued his case to Robin Roberts on GMA this morning, defending his 9/11 commission and arguing for oversight (as opposed to the deregulation McCain helped usher through last decade:

We need to get the best minds in America together. This is a crisis. This is one of the most severe crisis in modern times. So we've gotta get the best minds in America together to say: Look, not only did this happen but we've all gotta work together -- Republican and Democrat. I mean, this calls for bipartisanship. This calls for patriotism. This calls for saving the economy of the people, the family on this farm. They're the heartland of America. So, clearly, we have to have transparency, we have to have oversight, we have to have to combine these regulatory alphabet soup organizations, we have to make them work. They need a chief executive who knows how to crack the whip and knows how to reform Washington and reform the way that we do business."

McCain goes from icy to a FED AIG bailout on Monday to a bit more thawed today on GMA. He didn't want the bailout, "But there are literally millions of people whose retirement, whose investment, whose insurance were at risk here. They were going to have their lives destroyed because of the greed and excess and corruption," he said.

As we look for some specificity behind the rhetoric, whose hurdle is higher?

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