The McCain campaign wants to cast Sen. Barack Obama as an arugula-munching, Hawaii-vacationing, Ivy League-educated limousine liberal who's eager to raise your taxes and outlaw your guns in cahoots with his effete intellectual friends.
But such a message -- similar to ones that have been driven by GOP campaigns for decades -- is getting lost, perhaps somewhere in Sen. John McCain's seven homes and 13 cars.
In a reversal from recent presidential campaigns, this year's race features a Democrat who is portraying the Republican as an elitist who can't relate to the concerns of ordinary Americans.
Obama and his running mate, Sen. Joe Biden, have mocked McCain for not being able to immediately tell an interviewer how many houses he owns. With the economy driving the campaign debate, Obama has run ads blasting McCain as "out of touch," an adherent of "country-club economics."
Today, the Obama campaign launched two new TV ads -- one accusing McCain of supporting tax breaks for Bermuda-based offshore businesses, and another pointing out that "McCain owns 13 vehicles, including three foreign cars," including a Lexus and a Volkswagen.
"They're certainly unleashing it now," said Julian Zelizer, a Princeton University political historian. "Republicans have usually been better on the campaign trail at turning it against Democrats. But since McCain made that house comment, he gave them an opening. Democrats are countering the cultural arguments now."
Polls suggest that Obama has had some success in portraying McCain as out of touch. The most recent ABC News/Washington Post poll shows Obama with a 12-point edge as the candidate who "better understands the problems of people like you."
At a roughly similar point in the 2004 campaign, President Bush held a four-point edge over Democrat John Kerry on the same question.
"The return to serve here has been excellent," said Bill Carrick, a veteran Democratic consultant. "They're hitting it back pretty good."
Democrats from Adlai Stevenson to Michael Dukakis and Kerry have had to battle the "elitist" label. GOP candidates at the national level have used perceived economic and cultural differences to negatively portray their opponents -- and, in part, to blur the fact that their policies have typically offered less to poorer voters.
A similar strategy appeared promising for McCain early in the campaign. Obama had trouble connecting with white, working-class voters throughout the primaries, and a series of public statements seemed to widen the divide.
Obama publicly fretted about the price of arugula at Whole Foods markets while in Iowa -- a state that has no Whole Foods stores. Press reports described his love for the obscure organic beverage Honest Tea.
Obama vacationed in Hawaii shortly after a foreign trip that included a tour of European capitals. Perhaps most famously, Obama's recorded observation that rural voters were "bitter" and tend to "cling" to religion and guns contributed to a potentially powerful image of Obama as culturally separated from Middle America.
"It shows an elitism and condescension toward hardworking Americans that is nothing short of breathtaking," McCain adviser Steve Schmidt said shortly after the "cling" comment came to public light. "It is hard to imagine someone running for president who is more out of touch with average Americans."