Anatomy of an Attack: How McCain Hit Obama

McCain camp seethed, then began Landstuhl attack by touting Hannity quip.

July 27, 2008 — -- For days, Sen. John McCain's, R-Ariz., top advisers quietly -- and at times, not so quietly -- seethed as Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., basked in the limelight during his week-long overseas trip.

Even as they seethed, they were watching Obama's every move carefully, looking for a slip of the tongue, for some error by Obama that would provide them an opening to attack the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.

That opening turned out to be Obama's decision to cancel a visit to the U.S. military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, where he would have met with wounded American troops.

On Friday, among the blizzard of daily e-mails the ever-vigilant McCain press office sends, was one under the headline "In Case You Missed It: Hannity on Barack Obama's Cancelled Military Visits."

It quoted the conservative Fox News commentator Sean Hannity saying, "If you want my take on this, if you want to remember one thing about this trip, is that Barack Obama chose to work out rather than see the wounded troops because he couldn't bring Katie Couric, Charlie Gibson and Brian Williams with him."

The next day, the campaign released a statement from retired Army Lt. Col. Joe Repya blasting Obama.

"Barack Obama had scheduled a visit with wounded American troops who have served with honor and distinction in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but he broke that commitment, instead flitting from one European capital to the next," Repya wrote.

In literature, this is known as foreshadowing.

A few hours later, the McCain campaign dropped the bomb in the form of a new television ad entitled "Troops." It featured an extraordinarily harsh attack line: "And now, he made time to go to the gym, but cancelled a visit with wounded troops. Seems the Pentagon wouldn't allow him to bring cameras. John McCain is always there for our troops. McCain. Country first."

The Obama campaign was quick to cry foul.

"John McCain is an honorable man who is running an increasingly dishonorable campaign," said Obama campaign spokesman Tommy Vietor. "Sen. Obama was honored to meet with our men and women in uniform in Iraq and Afghanistan this week and has visited wounded soldiers at Walter Reed numerous times. This politicization of our soldiers is exactly what Sen. Obama sought to avoid, and it's not worthy of Sen. McCain or the 'civil' campaign he claimed he would run."

The television ad, which is running in Colorado, Pennsylvania and the Washington, D.C./Northern Virginia markets, reflects as much the determination of the McCain campaign to launch an aggressive attack on Obama, as it does the outrage inside the McCain camp over what it considers Obama's posturing and presumptuousness.

Mark Salter, one of McCain's closest aides, referred to Obama with biting sarcasm as "The One." Foreign affairs adviser Randy Schuenemann said Obama was acting like he was in the midst of coronation, not an election campaign. One top McCain adviser remarked that Obama staffers were already fighting over office space in the White House.

The McCain campaign is also quietly stewing over what it feels is media fawning over Obama. That anger was packaged in a video it put on its Web site, entitled "Obama Love." It consists of a montage of commentators gushing about Obama (most of the excerpts months old) set to the old Frankie Valli tune "You're Just Too Good To Be True."

"It's a joke," said one McCain adviser of the political coverage.

He said the media is treating Obama, not like someone running for elective office, but like a celebrity.

Mark Halperin, a Time magazine political analyst and author of the book "The Way To Win: Taking The White House in 2008," said the McCain campaign's drumbeat of complaints about Obama's trip and the media, risks making the campaign look like it is bitter.

"Rather than crying over this trip, John McCain and his campaign would be smart to take some lessons from it.," Halperin said. "They need to put him in big settings where he can be seen in a way that people can say, 'Hey, not only can that guy be president, he'd be a good president.' They're gonna have to be creative to try to match what has been a miraculously successful week for Barack Obama."