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"I'm Not George Bush!"

Said NBC’s Rachel Maddow, “frankly, John McCain looks more like he does not want Obama to be President more than he wants to be President.” That’s a problem progressives know too well. It’s the same way we didn’t vote FOR Kerry, rather AGAINST Bush in 2004. The reason we see so many “undecided voters” this late in the game is people are desperately looking for a reason to vote FOR McCain and thus far he has failed to provide one.


So there was McCain’s one big line, sitting powder dried in his ammo stack and ready to fire. It was the line he so desperately to put out there. The problem is it was too little, too late. And the rejoinder from Obama to the effect, “sorry if I confuse the two of you because you voted for 4 out of 5 Bush budgets,” did not help him.

McCain came out hyper-aggressively, looking for a fight and Obama stayed cool, cautious and Presidential. The Republican base loved McCain’s anger, but he could not modulate it and it eventually consumed him bringing the broader question of temperament and fitness under pressure to lead to bear. Undecided voters did not like this aggressive attack. They didn’t like him gritting his teeth, grinding them down to sawdust, sneering, glaring, rolling his eyes and looking angry.

It begs description and belief. McCain is a war hero. He has a decent enough record in the Senate. He is a guy I would have voted for in 2000. He was refreshingly frank where Al Gore was stiff and had he made it to the final two. It would have been difficult to support the Al Gore of 2000 over that John McCain.

After Karl Rove and Co. destroyed him in the primaries, attacked his wife and daughter and all but assured George Bush would be the nominee, there is not one Democratic strategist I know who didn’t think it despicable what his own party did to him. Then came Hillary and Co. But to then embrace those same people and their politics of hate and division now in 2008 is just baffling.

To try the attack route when everyone is so very seriously looking at the candidates and their issues has been a dismal failure. No one wants to hear about a 1960’s reformed radical William Ayers except the base. People want to hear about issues and what you will do about the economy.

At the end of the day, McCain talked broad old GOP generalities and Obama was on point all night long talking specifics. The base may be happy with the trivial, but those are not the people he needed to reach last night. Obama made the point that there have been a lot of negative attacks and McCain’s campaign is mostly to blame.

With what’s happening on Wall Street, the pandering references, 25 in all, to Joe the Plumber, was the most bizarre part of the evening. Joe the Plumber was mentioned 21 times by McCain/four times by Obama, not Marge the Systems Analyst and it got very silly with them addressing answers to Joe rather than ‘Bob’ the Moderator.

The overnight pollsters gave it to Obama although they said it was McCain’s best performance. The CNN snap poll was 58-31 Obama, CBS poll of uncommitted voters showed it 53% Obama, 24% (a tie) and 22% McCain.

Three last points show how desperate the Republicans are to stop the Obama juggernaut that is about to roll over them.

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First, as I wrote yesterday, key Senate races are showing a huge shift to Democrats. What was most interesting was uber-conservative Pat Buchanan tacking away from the Presidential election result and now insisting that if Obama wins, that it’s because of these economic times and… he will not have a mandate to lead?!? Said Pat, “had we not had the recession, the race would be tied”?!?

And had she said yes to a marriage proposal during our only meeting, actress Meg Ryan would have been Mrs. Denis Campbell?!?!?

Second, McCain’s attempt to paint Obama as a ‘socialist’ spreading the wealth around, inciting class warfare also failed. Most are looking at their situation, seeing investment bankers earning 400-12,000 times an average annual worker’s salary, then getting a bailout after they screwed up and salted their own millions away… are thinking, yeah! I could use some of that spread my way.


Third, the “who do you associate with” gambit forced McCain into a sputtering laundry list that just did not stick. Obama listed the people with whom he associates: Warren Buffet and ex-Fed Chief Paul Volker on the economy, Republican Dick Lugar, Joe Biden on foreign affairs and talked about others on the Chicago education board he sat on with Ayers… prominent Republicans such as Walter Annenberg, Chicago Tribune editors and others…


So Game and set this 4th time around to Obama in this, the last debate. 19 days to go. The lead looks as strong as the Democratic candidate.

Denis Campbell

Denis Campbell is a US journalist based in the United Kingdom. He contributes to newspapers and magazines, is a BBC Radio election commentator and publishes the daily e-magazine The Vadimus Post from the Latin Quo Vadimus – where are we headed and do we know why?

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