With a new TV spot comparing Barack Obama to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, John McCain is launching a new campaign aimed at portraying Obama as an international star without the heft necessary to become the commander-in-chief.
A 30-second ad that hit the airwaves Wednesday calls Obama “the biggest celebrity in the world,” then asks ominously, “Is he ready to lead?”
McCain's strategy appears to be to leverage the adoring crowds and personal charisma that have created excitement around Obama's campaign and use this celebrity to raise questions about Obama's depth.
Over the past week, McCain has begun toughening and sharpening his message against Obama. He suggested that Obama would be willing to lose the Iraq war in order to win the election. He ran a television ad blaming Obama for high gas prices and criticized him for skipping a meeting with injured U.S. troops in Germany because he couldn't bring television cameras along.
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All of these charges were heatedly disputed by the Obama campaign, and all have been criticized by independent fact-checking organizations. “Senator McCain is an honorable man who is increasingly running a dishonorable campaign,” said Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor. “He said he wanted a civil campaign about the issues. I think a lot of people are wondering what happened to him.”
The harsher attacks create some risk for McCain, analysts said, since he may come off as overly negative. But McCain appears to be gambling that the public's image of him is firmly set and that its doubts mostly relate to Obama, who has been on the national stage a much shorter time.
McCain officials say they are levying legitimate criticism as well as making up for the media's failure to do so. Obama has attained such celebrity that the press has abstained from scrutinizing his words and actions, they say, even as he has done such things as speak behind a symbol resembling a presidential seal.
McCain's aides dismissed the accusation that McCain had become overly negative, saying he was only responding to Obama's attacks. “Has Barack Obama given a single speech in this country in which he has not personally attacked and criticized John McCain?” asked Mark Salter, McCain's chief speechwriter.
Obama's advisers, for their part, are aware of the danger of his appearing to be caught up in his own glamour and adoring crowds rather than the needs of ordinary people.
On Wednesday, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., introduced Obama in Springfield, Mo., as “humble” and “as red, white and blue as you can possibly get.”
And Obama said McCain and the Republicans were trying to make him seem like a “risky” choice because they had no better criticism.