McCain Tries to Define Obama as Celebrity Candidate

The campaign of Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, launched a television ad Wednesday which described rival Sen. Barack Obama as all star power and no substance.

Obama, D-Ill., shot back with his own ad, charging that the Arizona senator was playing the "same old politics." Even with three months to go before the election, the words being exchanged between the campaigns have gotten tough.

"World News" Anchor Charles Gibson talked with Chief Washington Correspondent George Stephanopoulos about the tone of the campaign.

GIBSON: There are still 97 days to go until Election Day, so I suppose it could get worse. And so, we turn to our Chief Washington Correspondent George Stephanopoulos.

George Stephanopoulos Play
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STEPHANOPOULOS: You think it's going to get worse, Charlie?

GIBSON: We're arguing about what teas people drink and what shoes the candidates wear. First of all, let's start with McCain. What is the McCain strategy with these kinds of accusations, I guess, about Obama?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I think the strategy behind it is recognizing one fundamental fact about the campaign -- that right now, this campaign is about Barack Obama. He is getting all the attention. He is the candidate voters are focused on, and the McCain strategy is to define him before he can define himself. And there is a tradition of this, Charlie. Go back to 1988: Republicans put Michael Dukakis, the Democratic candidate, in a tank. In 2004, remember that ad of John Kerry when he was wind surfing (which they used), trying to show him as a flip-flopper? In each of those cases, the idea was to show that the Democratic candidate is not one of us, is not a regular guy. And they're trying to do the same thing now to Barack Obama by comparing him to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton.

GIBSON: And what do the Obama people and Obama himself, I guess, think of all of this, and how do they intend to respond?

STEPHANOPOULOS: They scoff. They say, first of all, this is a more serious time than 1988 or even 2004. We're a country at war. The economy is in the doldrums. People don't want to hear this kind of stuff. They're also going to say (as David Wright reported on "World News" and ABCNews.com) that this is just John McCain being negative. He's got nothing positive to say.

I think the big question here is going to be when voters see that ad, do they see that it captures something essential about Barack Obama's character, or do they think it's just a ridiculous caricature?

GIBSON: All right. George Stephanopoulos with the back and forth. Down in Washington. Thanks.