While you're watching (or not watching) the Great Roadblocked Obama Show over on those other networks -- framed by a "World News" interview, a "Daily Show" appearance, and other entertainment known informally as Late Night with Bill and Barack -- pause to consider the plight of Team McCain six days out.
No cash to respond in kind. No loyalties to enforce kindnesses. No kind of consistent message to refocus the race.
Yet something may shift yet in this campaign -- and that still-softish middle is Sen. Barack Obama's audience for his unique infomercial Wednesday night.
Maybe this is a silly waste of money and time (and at $3 million and 30 minutes, it a lot of both). Maybe Malia Obama isn't the only American who wants her programming lineup intact. Maybe this is just too weird, or too boring, or too Ross Perot (one "deep voodoo" reference, and we click), for an electorate to swallow.
(And maybe this is an odd time for Obama to be attacking Gov. Sarah Palin so directly in a TV ad -- wink and all.)
But Wednesday's primetime buy can be Obama's most valuable type of forum -- the kind where he gets to look like a president. It's a fireside-chat moment, in front of that most sacred of American boxes -- Obama's last best opportunity to appear presidential before he actually might get a chance to be president.
"At times he will speak directly into the camera about his 20-month campaign, at others he will highlight everyday voters, their everyday troubles, and his plans to address them," writes The New York Times' Jim Rutenberg, who got to see a one-minute trailer of the 30-minute address.
Rutenberg: "The trailer is heavy in strings, flags, presidential imagery and some Americana filmed by Davis Guggenheim, whose father was the campaign documentarian of Robert F. Kennedy. As the screen flashes scenes of suburban lawns, a freight train and Mr. Obama seated at a kitchen table with a group of white, apparently working-class voters, Mr. Obama says: 'We've seen over the last eight years how decisions by a president can have a profound effect on the course of history and on American lives; much that's wrong with our country goes back even farther than that.' "
Obama continues, "We've been talking about the same problems for decades and nothing is ever done to solve them. For the past 20 months, I've traveled the length of this country, and Michelle and I have met so many Americans who are looking for real and lasting change that makes a difference in their lives."
"This is going to be more like a television show, rather than a speech, top Obama campaign officials tell ABC News," per ABC's George Stephanopoulos. "We're going to see a 'lively half-hour of television,' one Obama aide told ABC News, speaking only half tongue-in-cheek." http://blogs.abcnews.com/george/2008/10/obamas-prime-ti.html
Per ABC's Jake Tapper, in a taped portion of the special at the beginning, Obama will be sitting around a white kitchen table with people and families chosen to illustrate particular economic challenges. He will share the oft-told story of his mom dying of ovarian cancer, arguing with her insurance company that had denied her coverage on the claim that her cancer was a pre-existing condition.
"The Obama ad has heavy dollops of presidential and American imagery," Tapper reported on "Good Morning America" Wednesday. "Other prominent Americans will appear to validate Obama -- like, a Colin Powell, for instance."
The event will end with a live appearance at a rally in Sunrise, Fla. -- the part we think we know Obama knows how to pull off.
"That line in Obama's stump speech about how parents need to turn the television off more at home? He might make an exception this day," the AP's Ben Feller writes. "The TV campaign comes as Obama, ahead in national and swing-state polls over Republican John McCain, tries to win over teetering voters right from the comfort of their couches."
Good idea? "Several political image makers, both Republicans and Democrats, say it's a smart move. But is there a risk of excess in it, as well?" Politico's Jeanne Cummings writes. "While Obama hasn't made many strategic mistakes in his campaign against Republican John McCain, he has, on occasion, shown a weakness for extravagance."
Says Republican adman Alex Castellanos: "People may complain that a team is running up the score, but that team is still the one that wins."
(Who wouldn't do this if he could?)
McCain keys off the special in his latest ad (with images reminiscent of the "celebrity" ad, plus the columns from his convention speech): "Behind the fancy speeches, grand promises and TV special, lies the truth: With crises at home and abroad, Barack Obama lacks the experience America needs. And it shows. His response to our economic crisis is to spend and tax our economy deeper into recession. The fact is Barack Obama's not ready . . . yet."
Obama attacks McCain (and particularly Sarah Palin) on the economy in his latest TV spot, recycling some favorite McCain quotes. "I'm going to be honest: I know a lot less about economics than I do about military and foreign policy issues. I still need to be educated . . . The issue of economics is not something I've understood as well as I should. . . . I might have to rely on a vice president that I select [for expertise on economic issues]."
"His choice?" the text reads. Cut to Palin, winking.
Obama, McCain Fight for Battleground Florida
Wednesday is a Florida day: "As much as Obama has expanded the electoral battleground into formerly solid Republican states, Tim Russert's maxim still holds: Florida, Florida, Florida," Adam C. Smith writes in the St. Petersburg Times. And Republicans are "in a strange new world. For the first time in decades, Republicans are up against a far bigger and better funded Democratic campaign in Florida."
"Democrat Barack Obama offering hope and change to thousands of supporters in packed arenas. Republican John McCain sipping coffee and shaking hands with struggling business owners," The Miami Herald's Beth Reinhard and Marc Caputo report. "These are the images likely to emerge from Wednesday's overlapping events on the campaign trail in Florida -- and they say as much about the state of the race as they do about the candidates themselves."
(And more from the annals of Gov. Charlie Crist, R-Fla.: "Some Republicans were also fuming over Crist's decision to extend early voting hours, since most of the people in line have been Democrats," Reinhard and Caputo write.)
What money does: "Mr. Obama ran 1,350 ads to Mr. McCain's 331 on Sunday in Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia, according to Nielsen Media Research," Christina Bellantoni writes in the Washington Times. "Nielsen reported, however, that Mr. McCain increased his ads in those states, running 1,353 to Mr. Obama's 1,528. From Oct. 6 through Monday, Mr. Obama ran 64,917 ads to Mr. McCain's 25,630 in those seven battleground states, Nielsen calculated."
As for McCain -- he can bemoan the late start of the World Series (but the games have been starting late anyway, and baseball is much more manageable when you start in the sixth inning).
He seeks to shift the ground: "On Wednesday in Florida, the Republican will give one last nod to national security issues, holding a meeting with his foreign policy advisers and giving a short speech. Aides said he will attempt to draw connections between national security, energy and the economy, arguing that Sen. Barack Obama is not ready to lead on those issues," The Washington Post's Michael D. Shear and Robert Barnes report.
"But the rest of his day will be rallies listed on his schedule as 'Joe the Plumber Events,' part of a final appeal charging that his rival would raise taxes on hardworking Americans and give the proceeds to others, driving down the economy," they write.
(But how much more does he want the plumber himself on the trail for him? "At a rally for McCain at a flag store in Columbus, [Joe] Wurzelbacher twice agreed with an audience member who said a vote for Democrat Barack Obama would be 'a vote for the death to Israel,' " per USA Today.
"I'll go ahead and agree with you on that," Wurzelbacher said.
Just the slightest hints that it may be working: "John McCain has consolidated in his base but slipped in the center, while Barack Obama is holding the line on taxes while advancing among middle class voters -- and just a little weariness is slipping into assessments of the candidates," per ABC polling director Gary Langer.
"For the first time since late September McCain has cracked Obama's double-digit margin in trust to handle the economy, now a 9-point Obama lead in this ABC News/Washington Post tracking poll, down from 18 points last week," Langer writes. "And McCain's pulled about even in trust to handle an unexpected crisis, after trailing Obama by 9 points on this attribute Oct. 11. But it's still far from McCain's best on crisis management, a 17-point lead Sept. 7."
It's still 52-45 in the tracking poll -- and Obama still has a 10-point edge in handling taxes.
For a day, at least, Obama was on his own side of the line of scrimmage: "Senator Barack Obama has the ball and he's driving deep into opposing territory. But John McCain is looking for a sack," Scott Helman and Sasha Issenberg write in The Boston Globe. "For all of the offense Obama is now playing, he and his campaign are having to mount a forceful defense of a big, vote-rich, traditionally Democratic prize: Pennsylvania."
"The Keystone State is John McCain's last stand," the Chicago Sun-Times' Lynn Sweet reports. "In the final stage of the campaign, he is back to turning on the charismatic heat, which had been tamped down for a while in order to quell snickers about him running for Messiah in Chief. Obama started with hope and change. He's ending with hope and change."
The economic message, take 312: "Sen. Obama is running to be Redistributionist in Chief," McCain said in Hershey, Pa., per the Philadelphia Inquirer's Larry Eichel and Angela Couloumbis. "I'm running to be commander in chief."
And, jumping on Joe Biden's almost (but not quite) flub: "It's interesting how their definition of 'rich' has a way of creeping down," McCain said.
Sarah Palin returns to energy on Wednesday: "We're going to talk about finally ending 30 years of failed energy policy in this nation," Palin tells The Wall Street Journal's Elizabeth Holmes. "The Alaska governor said she will push for alternative sources of energy as well as the development of new technology 'to allow our conventional sources of energy to be tapped and to flow in hungry markets.' . . . She will also blame 'nearly twenty Congresses and seven presidents' for their inability to make the country energy independent."
ABC's Imtiyaz Delawala: "While the speech will not offer any new policy proposals, the Palin campaign says the speech will seek to frame the issue in the context of Palin's experience on energy issues in Alaska, where she served on the state's Oil and Gas Conservation Commission before becoming governor. As Alaska's governor, Palin has also secured agreement on the construction of a $40 billion pipeline system to eventually transport natural gas from Alaska's northern slope to the continental United States."
This is bucking up the troops (and waking up the media): "Despite widespread polling to the contrary, [McCain pollster Bill] McInturff wrote that 'the campaign is functionally tied across the battleground states … with our numbers improving sharply over the last four tracks,' " per The Hill's Sam Youngman. "The pollster said a subgroup the campaign has long targeted, known to them as 'Walmart women' and identified as not having a college degree and residing in households that make less than $60,000 a year, 'are also swinging back solidly in our direction.' He added that the campaign is 'witnessing an impressive "pop" with Independent voters.' "
(Is this really the case he wants to be making? "The pollster for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) predicted Monday that 130 million people -- the highest percentage of eligible voters in American history -- will turn out in this presidential election," per Politico's Mike Allen.)
Writes McInturff: "Turn-out IS going to go through the roof. . . . Last night, 81% of voters described their interest in this election as a 10! Wow."
Time's Michael Scherer: "State polls are similarly showing no big movement, or confusing movement. But something could be starting. (A McCain insider assures me that key (unidentified) swing states are back to within 3 points, and closing.)"
The politics of hope? "The McCain campaign's case that the race is closer than many polls suggest appears to rest largely on the proposition that the composition of the electorate this year will closely resemble that in 2004," Michael Abramowitz writes in The Washington Post. "McCain pollsters do anticipate that turnout could be even higher this year than the robust turnout four years ago, but they also expect that Democratic gains among African American voters and younger voters will be offset by higher turnout among more Republican-leaning voters. They also assert the race is tightening in battleground states, with independent voters increasingly receptive to McCain."
"There still are warning signs, however, that new voters -- traditionally difficult to get to the polls on Election Day -- could be unreliable. Just 66% of those voters said they would definitely vote this year, compared with 90% of registered voters overall. Additionally, only six in 10 said they were very interested in the election, compared with eight in 10 of the larger electorate," Sara Murray writes in The Wall Street Journal.
In the meantime . . . Obama is up 50-43 in Florida, and 49-40 in Ohio, in the new Bloomberg/LA Times poll.
"Florida voters by more than 2-to-1 say a candidate's views on domestic issues such as health care and the economy are more important than positions on the war in Iraq and terrorism; voters in Ohio say the same by a 3-to-1 margin," per Bloomberg's Catherine Dodge.
"The poll results undercut McCain's closing argument that Obama is no friend of working people such as Joe the Plumber -- the Ohio man who said he feared his taxes would rise if Obama were elected," Janet Hook writes in the Los Angeles Times.
Quinnipiac's battleground polls have it much tighter in Florida -- Obama up 47-45 -- and an Obama lead that's a bit more comfortable in Ohio (51-42) and Pennsylvania (53-41).
From the release: "With six days to go Sen. Barack Obama is holding off what appears to be a too-little, too-late move by Republican Sen. John McCain in Ohio and Pennsylvania, but the Democrat's two-point lead among likely voters in Florida leaves that state too close to call."
Per the new AP polls: "Democrat Barack Obama had a solid lead in six of the eight states surveyed: Colorado, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia. He and Republican John McCain were even in two others: Florida and North Carolina."
From Ron Fournier and Trevor Tompson's write-up: "Barack Obama, gunning for a national landslide, now leads in four states won by President Bush in 2004 and is essentially tied with John McCain in two other Republican red states, according to new AP-GfK battleground polling. The results help explain why the Democrat is pressing his money and manpower advantages in a slew of traditionally GOP states, hoping not just for a win but a transcendent victory that remakes the nation's political map. McCain is scrambling to defend states where he wouldn't even be campaigning if the race were closer."
"I get the sense it's shutting down," said Tom Rath, a prominent GOP consultant in New Hampshire where McCain trails by 18 points in the AP poll.
Obama Holds Edge Over McCain in Campaign's Final Week
Could this be for real? "Sen. John McCain's once-comfortable lead in Arizona has all but evaporated, according to a new poll that has the underdog Republican presidential candidate struggling in his own backyard," Anne Ryman reports in the Arizona Republic. "With less than a week until Election Day, McCain is leading his Democratic rival, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, by 2 points, 46 to 44, down from a 7-point lead a month ago and a double-digit lead this summer, according to a poll from Arizona State University."
Says McCain senior adviser Charlie Black, to USA Today: "If you win all the red states, you win." (What if you lose the big ones?)
Still McCain's biggest single problem: "Republicans are losing ground in the battle over taxes -- turf they have dominated since the Reagan administration -- even against a Democratic presidential candidate who is promising substantial tax increases," Jonathan Weisman writes in The Wall Street Journal. "Democrats say Americans have become more willing to accept higher taxes -- at least on the wealthy. Republicans attribute the shift to marketing, claiming that Sen. Obama has skillfully hidden some tax increases while embracing Republican-style tax-cutting rhetoric." http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122523805558578177.html
"He went beyond the targeted tax cut approach of Democrats Al Gore and John Kerry and hammered home the message that his plan would cut taxes for "95 percent of Americans," per ABC's Teddy Davis, Rigel Anderson, and Arnab Datta. "And finally, Obama had the good fortune of running against a GOP opponent who could be portrayed as favoring a new broad-based tax on the middle class."
Undercutting . . . Per the AP's Mike Glover and Nedra Pickler: "Even two Republicans once on McCain's short list for vice president sounded skeptical. In a fundraising e-mail on behalf of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Mitt Romney referred to 'the very real possibility of an Obama presidency.' In the Midwest, Gov. Tim Pawlenty gave a dour assessment of McCain's chances in his state, saying Obama 'has a pretty good advantage in Minnesota right now.' "
"Displaying a fracture that stands to become a clean break if John McCain loses the election next week, Republicans of all stripes and stature have broken with their party's nominee and are not only supporting Democrat Barack Obama, but trashing the GOP in the process," per the AP's Glen Johnson. "Even McCain's supporters are beginning to talk of his campaign in funereal terms."
"Even as Sen. John McCain aggressively presses toward next week's finish line, nervous Republicans say they are worried that he could face a rout at the hands of Barack Obama, losing a cascade of classic red states such as North Carolina, where McCain campaigned Tuesday," Jill Zuckman writes in the Chicago Tribune.
Undercutting from within . . . "McCain allies say that Palin allies talked to Fox News commentator Fred Barnes to further throw [Nicolle] Wallace under the bus," ABC's Jake Tapper reports. "Moreover, McCain campaign sources say, Palin has developed quite a reputation on the campaign trail for shopping. . . . All the while, Palin herself has given the wardrobe story more media coverage by denying that she had anything to do with it."
Says Wallace, to Ana Marie Cox, at The Daily Beast: "There's obviously an organized campaign to lay blame for things at my feet and I'm not going to engage before the campaign ends. I have a very long relationship with Fox News and the notion that someone would call me a coward on the air and accuse me of putting $150,000 on my credit card without a single person calling and checking with me suggests that something is going on."
(Says Wallace, only in Maureen Dowd's imagination: "I can't believe Barnes called me a coward because I tried to update that $30 Wasilla beehive that made her look like the girlfriend in an Elvis movie and upgrade her from pleather to leather. And besides, she's not going to find real Americans at Saks and Neiman's. She's got to go to Barneys and Armani for that.")
They agreed, at least mostly (and a day late), on Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska: "Republican presidential candidate John McCain said Tuesday that Republican Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska has 'broken his trust with the people' and should resign now that he has been convicted in a federal corruption case," per the AP's Mike Glover. "McCain's running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, said Stevens should 'step aside' but did not call for him to drop out of Tuesday's race for re-election."
Another big voice: "The Senate's Republican leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell (Ky.), told reporters that Stevens should resign or face expulsion from the Senate. 'If he is reelected and the felony charge stands through the appeals process, there is zero chance that a senator with a felony conviction would not be expelled from the Senate,' he told the Associated Press while campaigning in Kentucky," per The Washington Post's Paul Kane and Del Quentin Wilber.
Campaigns Push Turnout as Historic Election Nears Finish
On the other side: "Barack Obama's massive campaign operation has generated a spike in Democratic voter registration in battleground states and competitive House districts, prompting political experts to predict that Obama will bring a crowd of Democrats into office on his coattails," The Hill's Alexander Bolton reports.
"Sen. John McCain's struggles in a number of reliably Republican regions of the country are further complicating the already tenuous reelection prospects of some congressional Republicans, according to strategists in both parties and independent analysts," Paul Kane reports in The Washington Post. "Particularly difficult for Republican prospects is that McCain appears to be trailing badly in several moderate suburban districts across the Midwest and New England, while he is doing worse than President Bush did in rural conservative districts."
Money's reach: "[Eric] Massa is one of 18 Democrats who are out-raising their opponents in competitive races for 40 seats in the House of Representatives now held by Republicans. That has fanned the party's hopes it can expand its 36-seat majority and control the agenda on everything from taxes to carbon emissions," Bloomberg's Jonathan D. Salant reports.
Does this speak louder? The rebuilding progresses, regardless of Tuesday's outcome: "Two days after next week's election, top conservatives will gather at the Virginia weekend home of one of the movement's most prominent members to begin a conversation about their role in the GOP and how best to revive a party that may be out of power at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue next year," Politico's Jonathan Martin reports.
The Obama show is your highlight -- at 8 pm ET on CBS, NBC, Univision, BET, MSNBC, and TV One. He'll follow it up with an appearance on "The Daily Show," and with a late-night rally with former President Bill Clinton in Florida.
In the interim, John McCain sits down with Larry King on CNN.
McCain spends his Wednesday in Florida -- beginning the day with a rally in Miami at 10:15 am ET, then holding a roundtable in Tampa at 1:15 pm ET before closing out the day with a second rally in Palm Beach at 5:15 pm ET.
Obama gets out the early vote in Raleigh, N.C. at 11:15 am ET, then heads to Florida for two joint rallies -- first with Joe Biden in Sunrise at 7:30 pm ET, then with the former president in Kissimmee at 11 pm ET. Biden also has a solo rally in Jupiter, Fla., at 10:45 am ET.
Sarah Palin works the Midwest. She gives a speech on energy policy in Toledo, Ohio, then has rallies in Bowling Green, Ohio at 11:15 am ET, followed by Chillicothe, Ohio at 3:30 pm ET, and finally Jeffersonville, Ind. at 7:30 pm ET.
Michelle Obama is in North Carolina -- she delivers an address in Fayetteville at 12 pm ET, then holds a rally in Rocky Mount at 3:30 pm ET.
Also in the news:
Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus wonders if Obama will lead like he's promised -- or like he's campaigned: "Accepting his party's nomination in Denver, Obama decried the use of 'stale tactics to scare voters.' A few weeks later, he was airing ads warning that John McCain wanted to privatize Social Security and would slash seniors' benefits almost in half. You can't get much staler than that."
The Los Angeles Times explains why that controversial tape hasn't been released: "The Los Angeles Times did not publish the videotape because it was provided to us by a confidential source who did so on the condition that we not release it," said the newspaper's editor, Russ Stanton. "The Times keeps its promises to sources."
One more Alaska trip for the governor: She plans to vote in her home state Tuesday, per ABC's Kate Snow. (But who will she vote for in the House and Senate races?)
Election night in Grant Park, in Chicago: By invitation only. "An electronic invitation being sent exclusively to Illinois supporters also says gates for the event will not open until 8:30 p.m., well after the end of the downtown rush hour," John McCormick writes in the Chicago Tribune. "After proving a Web address for ticket applications, the invitation states that 'an official printed ticket is required for entrance' and that each ticket will be valid for two people."
"This is Joe Biden, Senator Biden. How you doing? Ladies and gentlemen. . . . This is Joe Biden -- you can tell by the way I say ladies and gentlemen!" -- Joe Biden, convincing a caller that he was really Joe Biden.
"I'm looking forward to getting reacquainted with civilians." -- Jeff Zeleny, of The New York Times, on the long haul of the campaign.
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