July 31, 2008— -- Sen. John McCain's ad depicting Sen. Barack Obama as a paparrazzi-worthy celeb in the same class as Britney Spears and Paris Hilton may be the oddest attack ad in recent campaigns, but it's not clear whom it hurts more -- Obama or McCain.
The clear message in the Republican's ad is that the candidacy of Obama, who draws tens of thousands of admirers for his speeches, has been buoyed by his celebrity rather than grounded in the presidential school of hard knocks.
"Like most worldwide celebrities," reads a McCain campaign memo about the ad, "this status has fueled a certain arrogance."
The Republican Party's new Web site, Audacity Watch -- a not-so-sly reference to Obama's book "The Audacity of Hope" -- cites Obama's use of a faux presidential seal on his podium as an example of his arrogance. And the GOP could only stew during Obama's world tour last week, when he was treated like a world leader in the Mideast and greeted by more than 200,000 fans for a speech in Berlin.
In a town hall meeting in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, today, Obama scoffed at the ad.
"Given the seriousness of the issues, you'd think we could have a serious debate," Obama said. "But so far, all we've been hearing about is Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. I mean, I do have to ask my opponent, is that the best you can come up with? Is that really what this election is about? Is that what is worthy of the American people?"
The crowd yelled: "NOOOOOOOOOO."
On Wednesday, Obama's allies went on the attack for him. Progressive Accountability.org picked up on a Huffington Post blog mocking McCain, R-Ariz., for wearing $520 Ferragamo loafers.
Implicit in the counteroffensive, however, is the danger that McCain's wacky attack could actually work against Obama.
Michelle Cottle of the New Republic noted, "Americans don't like presidents who think they are better than the average guy."
George Stephanopoulos, ABC News' chief Washington correspondent and host of "This Week," said Republicans have effectively used this tactic before to make their opponent appear elitist.
It was effective four years ago when they used film of Democrat John Kerry windsurfing, not a sport in the same league of baseball or bowling.
"This ad is in that tradition," Stephanopoulos said. "Right now the campaign camp of McCain thinks it's going to work."
Besides, he noted, "They wanted to get attention. They are getting attention."
But the attempt to cast Obama as an arrogant celebrity carries the danger of creating an image for McCain too. The 72-year-old Republican, already known for his temper, could be seen as a cranky old man.
Dan Schnur, who advised McCain in 2000, warned, "You want to draw contrasts between yourself and your opponent, but you want voters to see that as valuable contrasting information rather than as simply name-calling."
Stephanopoulos said the tactic carries the danger of McCain being seen as "angry, cranky, a bit of a whiner given the fact that most polls show he is behind."
Even longtime McCain aide John Weaver, who left the campaign this past summer as he had pledged to do if Obama became the Democratic nominee, called the new ad "childish."
Weaver said the the negative strategy "reduces McCain. John is capable of inspiring Americans. It's not the John [McCain] brand at all. It's like asking Wilt Chamberlain to play point guard."
That comparison, however, also shows the age of the McCain campaign. Wilt Chamberlain is a former Los Angeles Laker who retired from basketball in 1974 -- when Obama was 12 years old.