Until or unless evidence emerges that, on the advice of Jeremiah Wright and Michael Pfleger, Tony Rezko paid for Barack Obama to take Bill Ayers' course on how to tank an economy, it's just possible that the current (final?) line of attack by Sen. John McCain doesn't precisely match this moment in the campaign.
Maybe, of course, the McCain campaign is right. Maybe shady Chicago connections involving a candidate who's been on the national stage for 18 months will trump the economy and the stock market and the housing crisis as issues for these final three-plus weeks.
"I don't care about two washed-up old terrorists that are unrepentant about trying to destroy America. But I do care, and Americans should care, about his relationship with him and whether he's being truthful and candid about," McCain, R-Ariz., told ABC's Charlie Gibson Thursday.
"I see matters of judgment and truthfulness and ambition," Gov. Sarah Palin, R-Alaska, said on the stump Thursday.
Or maybe the answer is to tie the big storylines together. New from the McCain campaign Friday: An ad that casually drops the L-word and touches on both Ayers to the economic distress, with Democrats portrayed as anti-regulation.
The ad: "Obama's blind ambition. When convenient, he worked with terrorist Bill Ayers. When discovered, he lied. Obama. Blind ambition. Bad judgment. Congressional liberals fought for risky sub-prime loans. Congressional liberals fought against more regulation. Then, the housing market collapsed, costing you billions. In crisis, we need leadership, not bad judgment."
The RNC is putting Ayers (and others) into play, too -- with a new ad launching in Indiana and Wisconsin featuring Ayers, Rezko, and William Daley. "There's more you need to know," says the ad.
But if Team McCain is wrong (and the stock market seems to be rendering a political verdict daily on what Americans should care about, and Obama will have a block of primetime television a week before the election to weigh in like McCain can't) -- get ready for an ugly stretch.
Not just on the trail, either -- here come the internal campaign splits that are the real signs of a campaign that's losing focus amid the prospect of losing:
"Sen. John McCain has allowed a series of increasingly harsh broadsides in new campaign ads and in speeches by his wife, Cindy, and his running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin. But the Arizona Republican has rejected pleas from some advisers to launch attacks focusing on Sen. Obama's former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright," Monica Langley and Elizabeth Holmes report in The Wall Street Journal.
Is someone setting him or (her) self up to say told-you-so? "Sen. McCain vetoed proposals to attack the Illinois senator for his 20 years as a member of the church led by Rev. Wright, whose harsh comments about racism in America and other issues created problems for Sen. Obama during the Democratic primary contest," Langley and Holmes continue.
Even Wright-less, McCain's current strategy is working, if the intent is to play to folks in the base who are against something, anything, everything:
"What has been most striking about the last 48 hours on the campaign trail is the increasingly hostile atmosphere at Mr. McCain's rallies, where voters furiously booed any mention of Mr. Obama and lashed out at the Democrats, Wall Street and the news media," Elisabeth Bumiller and Patrick Healy write in The New York Times.
"I'm really mad!" shouted one audience member at the McCain-Palin rally Waukesha, Wis. "And what's going to surprise you, it's not the economy. It's the socialists taking over our country."
"There were shouts of 'Nobama' and 'Socialist' at the mention of the Democratic presidential nominee. There were boos, middle fingers turned up and thumbs turned down as a media caravan moved through the crowd Thursday for a midday town hall gathering featuring John McCain and Sarah Palin," Michael D. Shear and Perry Bacon Jr. write in The Washington Post.
This from Wisconsin radio host James T. Harris, a warm-up speaker at a McCain campaign event: "I am begging you, sir. I am begging you. Take it to him."
(With the anxious, angry base -- anyone else having Kerry '04 flashbacks?)
The party's frustrations, now playing daily (try to count the smears): "The unmistakable momentum behind Barack Obama's campaign, combined with worry that John McCain is not doing enough to stop it, is ratcheting up fears and frustrations among conservatives," Politico's Jonathan Martin writes. "And nowhere is this emotion on plainer display than at Republican rallies, where voters this week have shouted out insults at the mention of Obama, pleaded with McCain to get more aggressive with the Democrat and generally demonstrated the sort of visceral anger and unease that reflects a party on the precipice of panic."
"At a normal campaign rally, it's the candidate who tries to whip the crowd into a frenzy. At John McCain's town-hall Waukesha, Wis., Thursday, it was the other way around," Slate's John Dickerson writes.
Mightn't this all have worked better a few month ago? "McCain has only himself to blame for the bad timing," columnist Charles Krauthammer writes. "He should months ago have begun challenging Obama's associations, before the economic meltdown allowed the Obama campaign (and the mainstream media, which is to say the same thing) to dismiss the charges as an act of desperation by the trailing candidate."
(What does this say about the political future? "Some in the very partisan crowd even booed McCain at one point after he said, 'I believe that climate change is real; I believe that greenhouse gasses are a threat to our planet.' The crowd cheered when Palin said 'Drill, baby, drill' for oil," Abdon M. Pallasch reports in the Chicago Sun-Times.)
Obama's latest on Ayers: "I was eight years old at the time [of the bombings] and I assumed that he had been rehabilitated," he tells a Philadelphia radio host, per Politico's Ben Smith.
McCain errs on Ayers (on purpose?): "I don't care about Mr. Ayers who, on Sept. 11, 2001, said he wished he'd have bombed more," McCain told Charlie Gibson. Per ABC's Ron Claiborne: "The only problem with this account is that Ayers did not say that on Sept. 11. He said it some days earlier. It happened to appear in the New York Times on Sept. 11."
The New Republic's Michael Crowley: "If Ayers is self-evidently loathsome enough that we should doubt Obama's basic judgment, then surely McCain, once corrected on this point, won't feel the need to keep stretching the facts as a way of connecting Ayers to something more emotionally salient and politically relevant than the Vietnam War."
Meanwhile, Obama spends five out of six days in Ohio -- and he's "pouring it on" as the frontrunner, per ABC's John Berman.
"No single state is more important to Barack Obama's prospects than Ohio," ABC's George Stephanopoulos reported on "Good Morning America" Friday. "By saturating the state over the next five days, he wants to lock in that lead."
What might resonate there? "Everywhere he went -- from Cincinnati to Dayton to Portsmouth -- he slammed his opponent, Republican John McCain, for turning away from talking about the struggling economy and turning instead to personal attacks on Obama and his running mate," Howard Wilkinson writes for the Cincinnati Enquirer.
Obama is finding a new way to take it to McCain: "Barack Obama described John McCain as risky, erratic, and uncertain, and that was all just in his first event of the day," ABC's John Berman, Sunlen Miller and Ursula Fahy report. "If you had a nickel for every time an Obama aide used the word 'erratic,' you might be able to afford to attend one of the senator's big ticket fundraisers."
"On a day when some conservatives also critiqued McCain's proposal, Obama used the 'risky idea' as a way to describe McCain as a desperate candidate 'lurching' from idea to idea as he tries to find an answer to the economic crisis that has roiled the presidential campaign," The Washington Post's Robert Barnes and Michael D. Shear write. And: "On Thursday, the stock market lost nearly 700 points and dropped below 9,000 for the first time in five years. Neither McCain or Palin mentioned the stock market on the campaign trail, and their campaign did not release a comment on it."
"Obama sought to use McCain's newest economic proposal -- a mortgage bailout plan he announced in Tuesday's debate -- to suggest in his sharpest language yet that McCain is unfit to be president," Michael Finnegan and Peter Nicholas write in the Los Angeles Times.
"Just the latest in a series of shifting positions," said Obama. "This is the kind of erratic behavior we've been seeing out of Sen. McCain."
McClatchy's Margaret Talev and William Douglas: "If McCain hopes his uncharacteristically big-government proposal will hold populist appeal for millions of struggling homeowners in the closing weeks of the campaign, Obama is betting that he can turn that strategy upside down by presenting it as evidence that McCain, a longtime advocate of deregulation, is more interested in helping the lending industry than homeowners."
McCain's admission that his plan may require new money -- on top of the $700 billion bailout -- brings a new opening to Obama. "John McCain's risky bailout scheme just keeps getting worse," Obama spokesman Hari Sevugan tells ABC's Teddy Davis and Arnab Datta.
Guess who else isn't thrilled? "The notion leaves conservatives cold," Fortune's Nina Easton writes. "That kind of ideological impurity is one reason McCain has such an iffy relationship with his party's conservative wing."
It might not be strictly legal, either. The key provision from the new TARP law, per The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder: to head off "unjust enrichment," the law "prevent[s] the sale of a troubled asset to the Secretary at a higher price than what the seller paid to purchase the asset."
And will voters listen? "The candidates maneuvered as a new USA TODAY/Gallup Poll showed that viewers of the second presidential debate have more confidence that Obama can handle the economy. By a more than a 2-to-1 margin, however, debate viewers have less confidence that McCain can deal with the nation's economic problems," USA Today's David Jackson writes.
A big day Friday for Sarah Palin: The long-awaited "Troopergate" report out of the Alaska Legislature is due for release.
But we can just take the campaign's word for it, right? "Trying to head off a potentially embarrassing state ethics report on GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, campaign officials released their own report Thursday that clears her of any wrongdoing," the AP's Matt Apuzzo writes. "The campaign's report instead blames former campaign opponent, Andrew Halcro, who has a blog, of conspiring with Wooten to pin Monegan's dismissal on the family's dispute with Wooten."
Maybe, just maybe, that's not the whole story. . . . "An examination of the case, based on interviews with Mr. Monegan and several top aides, indicates that, to a far greater degree than was previously known, the governor, her husband and her administration pressed the commissioner and his staff to get Trooper Wooten off the force, though without directly ordering it," Serge F. Kovaleski reports in The New York Times.
"In all, the commissioner and his aides were contacted about Trooper Wooten three dozen times over 19 months by the governor, her husband and seven administration officials, interviews and documents show. 'To all of us, it was a campaign to get rid of him as a trooper and, at the very least, to smear the guy and give him a desk job somewhere,' said Kim Peterson, Mr. Monegan's special assistant, who like several other aides spoke publicly about the matter for the first time."
More on "Troopergate," per the AP: "Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin remained in the dark while her husband repeatedly asked top state officials to help get his former brother-in-law kicked off the state police force, Palin's husband and top aides said in affidavits provided to The Associated Press. The affidavits filed with investigators late Wednesday will probably help Palin's defense that the firing was not a tit-for-tat, but they also portray her as uninvolved while her husband met repeatedly with her aides about family affairs. That could provide fodder for her political opponents."
The Washington Post's Kimberly Kindy charts Palin's rise: "This spring, Palin's official calendar chronicles an extraordinary rise to national prominence. A fresh face in Republican politics, she was discovered by the national news media at least in part because of a determined effort by a state agency to position her as an oil and gas expert who could tout Alaska's determined effort to construct a natural gas pipeline."
Kindy continues: "An outside public relations expert hired under a $31,000 contract with the state Department of Natural Resources pitched the 'upstart governor' as a crusader against Big Oil, a story line that Palin has adopted in her campaign as Sen. John McCain's running mate."
(If that's what $31,000 can buy . . . )
Obama is about to find out what a few million extra in the kitty can mean. "The Obama campaign has bought a half hour block of primetime television -- from 8-8:30pm ET -- on Wednesday, Oct. 29, on CBS, NBC, and MSNBC," per ABC's John Berman. "The bold buy, first reported by the Hollywood Reporter and featured on the Drudge Report, will put the Obama show uninterrupted to American television sets across the country less than one week before election day. The Obama camp remains in talks with other networks to do the same on other channels."
"The campaign is also talking to ABC and Fox about similar deals, though the potential of a World Series Game 6 may make that impossible on Fox," Jim Rutenberg and Brian Stelter report in The New York Times. "It was an extraordinary move illustrating the spending flexibility Mr. Obama enjoys as his campaign raises huge sums outside of the restrictive campaign finance system, which imposes spending limits in return for matching federal money."
How can the campaign afford it? Well . . . surely the refund checks are already cut: "An analysis of campaign finance records by The New York Times this week found nearly 3,000 donations to Mr. Obama, the Democratic nominee, from more than a dozen people with apparently fictitious donor information," Michael Luo and Griff Palmer write in The New York Times. "The contributions represent a tiny fraction of the record $450 million Mr. Obama has raised. But the questionable donations -- some donors were listed simply with gibberish for their names -- raise concerns about whether the Obama campaign is adequately vetting its unprecedented flood of donors."
("Test Person" is not a real person, apparently, and "Fdsa Fdsa" is neither an employer nor an occupation -- though it is a fun thing to type on a QWERTY keyboard.)
More fresh GOP ammo: "At the same time the Bush administration was negotiating a still elusive agreement to keep the U.S. military in Iraq, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama tried to convince Iraqi leaders in private conversations that the president shouldn't be allowed to enact the deal without congressional approval," Barbara Slavin writes in the Washington Times.
"Mr. Obama's conversations with the Iraqi leaders, confirmed to The Washington Times by his campaign aides, began just two weeks after he clinched the Democratic presidential nomination in June and stirred controversy over the appropriateness of a White House candidate's contacts with foreign governments while the sitting president is conducting a war," Slavin continues. "Some of the specifics of the conversations remain the subject of dispute. Iraqi leaders purported to The Times that Mr. Obama urged Baghdad to delay an agreement with Mr. Bush until next year when a new president will be in office -- a charge the Democratic campaign denies."
Also bubbling up: "John McCain's presidential campaign and the Republican National Committee have added a new alleged villain as they try to raise doubts about Democratic nominee Barack Obama in the closing weeks of the race -- a community organizing group accused of generating a flurry of phony voter registration cards in a number of states," Brian C. Mooney reports for The Boston Globe. "The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, known as ACORN, which says it has signed up about 1.3 million voters in 18 states this year, has come under fire for irregularities in at least eight states, including Nevada, where voter cards for the starting lineup of the Dallas Cowboys were turned in to local election officials."
"A man at the center of a voter-registration scandal told The Post yesterday he was given cash and cigarettes by aggressive ACORN activists in exchange for registering an astonishing 72 times, in apparent violation of Ohio laws," Jean MacIntosh writes for the New York Post.
More talk-radio fodder: "The Obama campaign said it was a mistake for an outreach coordinator to join a meeting last month attended by leaders of two controversial Muslim groups as it seeks votes from large Muslim populations in swing states," Susan Schmidt writes in The Wall Street Journal. "Minha Husaini, newly named as head of the campaign's outreach coordinator to Muslims, attended a discussion session Sept. 15 with about 30 Muslim leaders and community members in suburban Washington, the Obama campaign confirmed. Participants included leaders of the Council of American-Islamic Relations and the Muslim American Society, which have been cited by the government in the past for ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas."
The turns people take: "With the economy in crisis and Election Day in sight, Obama can't say enough about the Clinton epoch -- the job growth, the budget surpluses, the broad prosperity -- and often lauds the former president's economic stewardship as a model," Scott Helman writes in The Boston Globe. "Obama's characterization of Clinton's presidency is markedly different than the one he offered during the Democratic primaries, when he was running against Clinton's wife, Senator Hillary Clinton."
"Taking a page from Bill Clinton's 1992 playbook, fellow Democrat Barack Obama used the first day of a two-day Ohio campaign swing to highlight his plans to solve the current financial mess," William Hershey writes in the Dayton Daily News.
Big choice for Obama? "Does he begin now to prepare the electorate for tough times, or does he continue to maintain a politically contrived optimism on the assumption that he can shift gears after election day," Huffington Post's Tom Edsall writes.
Hard to win like this: "Despite championing immigration reform in 2007, John McCain is poised to lose the Hispanic vote by a landslide margin that is well below President George W. Bush's 2004 performance," Politico's Ben Smith reports.
Good luck tracking: "Spending by independent political groups in congressional races is surging in the final weeks before Election Day, in some cases surpassing what candidates themselves are pumping into close contests," USA Today's Fredreka Schouten writes. "Since Sept. 1, nine groups have spent more than $1 million each in House and Senate races, including $11.3 million by an organization bankrolled by drug companies that is running ads featuring 26 members of Congress from both major parties."
Daily sign that the end is near: "President Bush created a special council yesterday to guide the transition to a new administration, another step toward the end of Bush's eight tumultuous years in office," Dan Eggen writes in The Washington Post.
Barack Obama finishes off his two-day bus tour in Ohio with rallies in Chillicothe at 9:40 am ET and Columbus at 1:20 pm ET. He then heads to Philadelphia for an evening fundraiser.
Joe Biden begins his Friday with a rally in Springfield, Mo. at 12:30 pm ET then heads to Chicago for a fundraiser -- where he'll appear with Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama.
John McCain holds a rally in La Crosse, Wis., at 11 am ET, followed by a second rally in Lakeville, Minn. at 5 pm ET.
A busy Friday for Sarah Palin -- she attends back-to-back fundraisers in Cincinnati at 8:30 am ET and Cleveland at noon. In the Cleve, she then attends a ribbon cutting at the Michael T. George Center for Community Living at 2:15 pm ET, before heading to Pittsburgh for a third fundraiser at 5:30 pm ET.
At the White House, President Bush addresses the nation regarding the economic crisis (a presidential address -- that's what the stock market has been missing!) at 10:25 am ET from the Rose Garden.
Per ABC's Lisa Chinn, of the president's nine previous formal statements since the bailout bill was proposed, the market has gone up that day twice. (One statement came on a weekend.)
And don't miss Palin's time on the ice Saturday night in Philadelphia, when the vice-presidential nominee drops the puck at the Flyers' opener against the New York Rangers. (Real question: Will she fare better than Santa Claus in Philly?)
"We'd achieved our objective with getting the national attention." -- Kurt Gibson, a member of Gov. Sarah Palin's oil and gas team, on why outside PR help was no longer necessarily once Palin was named John McCain's running mate.
"Pee-pants over here." -- Darrell Hammond, as John McCain, with a new twist on "that one" on the Thursday night "SNL" special.
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