Romney Rally Anthem

Don’t be angry. Don’t be sad.
And don’t sit cryin’ over good times you’ve had.
There’s a girl right next to you.
And she’s just waitin’ for something to do.

And there’s a rose in the fisted glove.
And the eagle flies with the dove.
And if you can’t be with the one you love,
honey, love the one you’re with.

Love the one you’re with.
Love the one you’re with.
Love the one you’re with.

- Stephen Stills

A Little Too Rowdy Of A Crowd

Political communicators work day and night to control everything about political events. The stagecraft. The music. The tempo. The supporting cast. The wardrobe. The make-up. The messaging. The media coverage.

But there is one thing that seems to be increasingly difficult for political handlers to control. The audience.

At this phase of the campaign cycle, the Republican frontrunners’ campaigns are doing their best to win partisan primary and caucus voters without spooking less partisan and zealous General Election voters watching TV coverage of events. It’s a tricky balancing act under any circumstances, and the audiences at Republicans events are making it much more difficult.

The boisterous zealots bellowing forth at nationally televised Republican events are diverting attention from the front-runners’ carefully focus group tested messaging, and instead making the candidates look bloodthirsty…

intolerant…

and heartless…

These candidates look extreme by association. These are not the warm and fuzzy images that the political handlers strive to create. Long after background flags are returned to the rental company, these Gladiator-esque reactions of the Republican crowd are what many of us remember about the moment.

A winning Republican formula in the past has been to run candidates with warm-feeling personalities to mask the harsh impact of the conservative policies they support. Reagan, Pawlenty, McCain and Romney are among those who played that game especially well. But the discordant chorus at Republican events is taking the sheen off the frontrunners’ carefully managed nice guy images.

This is not an insignificant issue for political communicators in the age of extreme political polarization. If I were a Republican spin savant, I’d be spending less time obsessing about the size of the candidates’ flag pin decal, and more time on crowd control.

Loveland

The Star That Burns Brightest Burns Fastest

7-4-2009 12-16-49 PMOn this 4th of July holiday, amidst all of the celebrations, let’s take a moment to note the passing of Sarah Palin’s political career; it was just 17 years old and in the last year briefly captured our attention and a few hearts along the way. The cause of death is still unknown, but it’s clear the wound was self-inflicted.

Forget all of the “political analysis” that’s filling the internet about what a smart move this was because it’s bullshit.  Yesterday, Sarah Palin drove a stake right through the heart of her presidential prospects.  She might become a talk show host, she might go on the radio, become an advocate for causes and a fixture on the speaking circuit.  She will not, however, ever be a credible candidate for president again.

Sarah Palin did not cost John McCain the election, but she made the trainwreck worse.  Outside of the hardcore movement conservatives who respond to her emotionally, the rest of us saw a women ill-prepared for the national stage, uneducated and unsophisticated about the critical issues of the day,  and emotionally and intellectually immature.  Questions about her judgment made questions about John McCain’s judgment a legitimate campaign issue.  Throughout the fall, her standing among the American electorate dropped faster that an SUV gas gauge on the highway as each exposure made it clear that the woman who would be a heartbeat away from the Oval Office was a scary prospect indeed.

Ms. Palin might have had a chance to run in 2012 if she had gone back to Juneau, governed effectively, spent as much time as possible on the lower 48 fundraising/political circuit (admittedly no small feat for a sitting Alaska governor) and brought in a faculty to provide a three-year crash course on the policy issues and political skills (message discipline, interview skills, etc.) that she tried to skip over last year.  That way, when the spotlight came back around, the public would see a Sarah Palin ready to govern the most complex country in the world during one of the most complex periods in world history and she would have built up a record and political organization to support a campaign.

A very tough, narrow road to walk, admittedly, but the only one I can think of that would have possibly undone the damage she did among the 75 percent of us who found her varying degrees of scary.  If she could persuade a third of  us that she was qualified, she could have been a contender.

Instead, she has done the one thing I can think of to effectively cement her image as a capricious and emotionally immature personality; she’s elected to simply walk away from her job as governor with 18 months to go.  And to do so because it’s become a burden.

Ms. Palin may or may not chose to try to run for president in 2012 or thereafter.  If she does, however, her entire campaign will be defined by a single question that she can expect to hear over and over and which – for her – there is now no correct answer:

“Governor Palin, you abandoned your responsibilities as the governor of one of our nation’s smallest (other than geography) and least complex states; what makes you qualified to serve as President of the United States?”

RIP.

- Austin

Last Look at the Electoral Cage Match

What a long, strange trip it’s been.  I’m very excited to see how it all plays out tomorrow.  As Willy Wonka put it, “The suspense is terrible; I hope it will last.”

Here’s where we are…The pollsters and pundits differ slightly on the details, but not on the direction of the election on this last day of the longest campaign:

Many pollsters are detecting some tightening of the race, but none of them are prepared to do any substantial tipping of the race toward the GOP.  In fact, it’s worth noting that most of the tightening seems to be attributable to increases in support for McCain rather than a loss of support for Obama.  Indeed, for several days, Obama has been showing steady support above 50 percent at both the national level and in many of the state polls.

Here’s an interesting site that sums up the various pollsters.  Click on the image below to see an interactive version of the chart.  Mouse over each row to see how various pollsters are calling the race:

Here’s my final prediction for how things will go…

This is a very optimistic scenario for Team Obama and is based on a couple of assumptions on my part:

  • Early voting, particularly among blacks, is going to help Obama/Biden more than many are currently predicting.  This will be the primary factor in pushing North Carolina and Virginia into the Blue column.
  • The Obama GOTV effort will be as effective as everything else they’ve done to date and will make the difference in Ohio, Florida and Missouri.
  • Republicans are disheartened and they are not funding their GOTV efforts at the same level seen in previous recent elections.
  • Long lines and glitches will not have a significant effect on turnout.
  • There is no meaningful “Bradley effect” that is overstating Obama’s support.  In fact, I think there may be some reason to think there’s a “reverse Bradley” at work where some white voters are saying they’re backing McCain but will in the end pull the lever for Obama.
  • Sarah Palin is a huge disincentive for anyone other than the Republican base to support McCain/Palin.  The most recent survey I saw indicated 45 percent of respondents rated her choice as “poor.”

Nate Silver, one of the forces behind FiveThirtyEight.com, which has become one of my favorite site since PM introduced me to it, has posted on Newsweek‘s site his version of what to look for tomorrow night.  It makes a good companion to the material I posted in the last couple of weeks.

Now, let’s hear from you, Crowdies!  What do you think will happen tomorrow?  Give us an electoral college count.

Game on!

- Austin how to write an invoice nice

John McCain Throws His Running Mate Under the SNL Bus

John McCain did a nice job on Saturday Night Live this evening with an elaborate intro sketch.  He did a workmanlike job delivering his lines and reminded us that he has a pretty good sense of humor.  The writing was a bit forced as – far more than any other political celebrity walk-ons I’ve seen on SNL – it included some overt – and lengthy – McCain campaign messages in the dialog.  Tina Fey reprised her Sarah Palin character and joined McCain throughout.  In what has to be gesture of true spousal love, Cindy McCain had a part as well.

One person, though, who’s probably not laughing much right now is the Barracuda of the North, our own Sarah Palin.  The sketch knocked her on the clothing issue, on the “goin’ rogue” issue, on not going back to Alaska and a couple other topics, all while Senator McCain looked on (and implicitly endorsed it).  His presence and participation in the skit made the knocks seem harsher.

Probably gonna be a little frosty on tomorrow’s McCain morning messaging call.

- Austin

Photo credit: David Karp, AP free invoice software nice

McCain’s “Hail Sarah” Finally Comes Down…and Falls Incomplete

Back on August 29th, when Alaska Governor Sarah Palin burst onto the national political scene, I called it McCain’s “Hail Sarah” pass and thought it spoke of desperation among the McCainites.  It took two months for the ball to reach the top of its arc and fall toward the endzone but based on the story posted on the New York Times web site this evening, I think we’re ready to make a ruling on the field:

“The pass is incomplete.  4th down.”

According to the Times‘ polling on the subject…

All told, 59 percent of voters surveyed said Ms. Palin was not prepared for the job, up nine percentage points since the beginning of the month. Nearly a third of voters polled said the vice-presidential selection would be a major factor influencing their vote for president, and those voters broadly favor Senator Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee.

Only 36 percent of respondents had a favorable opinion of Governor Palin and only 35 percent consider her prepared to assume the presidency.  Forty-one percent had an unfavorable opinion.  By comparison, Joe Biden had an 18 point favorable/unfavorable spread (43-25) and 74 percent of respondents consider him prepared to be president.

It gets worse…

Mr. McCain’s renewed efforts to cast himself as the candidate of change have apparently faltered. Sixty-four percent of voters polled said Mr. Obama would bring about real change if elected, while only 39 percent said Mr. McCain would. And despite Mr. McCain’s increased efforts to distance himself from President Bush, a majority still said he would generally continue Mr. Bush’s policies.

So, to boil it down, Senator McCain damaged – fatally it seems – his argument that he’s the candidate with experience and solid judgment by picking Governor Palin and jumping to a message of “change is coming.”  Unfortunately, the change message has failed as well.

The poll does, however, illuminate the reason why all you’ll hear from the Red Team over the next five days is attacks on Obama’s fitness to handle an international crisis (witness Sarah Palin today): the only category in which McCain holds any meaningful lead over Obama is in the category of readiness to serve as commander-in-chief:  McCain is held to “very prepared” by 47 percent of the electorate to only 33 percent for Obama.

Maybe that sets the stage for the last Hail Mary of the cycle.

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Walk Softly and Carry A Big Quote

One of the most effective things anyone in a debate can do is use credible third parties to make their points for them, especially when the third party is an ally of your opponent.

Well, in the waning days of the presidential campaign, Barack Obama is being called a socialist by John McCain, Sarah Palin and Joe the Pawn, because he is calling for America’s wealthiest citizens to pay the level of taxes they paid in the Clinton years, so that middle income families can get a tax cut.

To defend the policy, Obama need look no further than John McCain’s self-described “hero:”

“We grudge no man a fortune in civil life if it is honorably obtained and well used. It is not even enough that it should have been gained without doing damage to the community. We should permit it to be gained only so long as the gaining represents benefit to the community. … The really big fortune, the swollen fortune, by the mere fact of its size, acquires qualities which differentiate it in kind as well as in degree from what is possessed by men of relatively small means. Therefore, I believe in a graduated income tax on big fortunes, and … a graduated inheritance tax on big fortunes, properly safeguarded against evasion, and increasing rapidly in amount with the size of the estate.”

Theodore Roosevelt

In the closing days of the campaign, Obama needs to employ a credible third party for corroboration on this issue. He should let McCain argue with Teddy.

Or if that doesn’t work, Obama should let McCain argue with someone even closer to McCain’s heart:

Student: Why is that some like my father who goes to school for 13 years gets penalized in a huge tax bracket because he’s a doctor.

McCain: I think you’re questioning the fundamentals of a progressive tax system where people who make more money pay more in taxes than a flat across-the-board percentage. I think it’s to some degree because we obviously believe that wealthy people can afford more. We have over the years, beginning with John F. Kennedy, reduced some of those marginal tax rates to make them less onerous. But I really believe that when you look at the tax code today, the very wealthy, because they can afford tax lawyers and all kinds of loopholes, really don’t pay nearly as much as you think you do when you just look at the percentages. And I think middle income Americans, working Americans, when you count in payroll taxes, sales taxes, mortgage, uh, all of the taxes that working Americans pay, I think you would think that they also deserve significant relief in my view.”

Student: Aren’t we getting closer and closer to, like, socialism and stuff?

McCain: Here’s what I really believe: That when you are reach a certain level of comfort there is nothing wrong with paying somewhat more, but at the same time it shouldn’t be totally out of proportion…”

- Loveland

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Unfavorable politics begets unfavorable coverage

The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism has published findings from a study that examines the tone of coverage of the presidential campaign between Sept. 8 and Oct. 16.

Perhaps the most significant finding is that the coverage of Sen. McCain has been, by a pretty fair margin, largely negative. Coverage of Sen. Obama, on the other hand, is quite even — but a touch more positive (or “less negative,” I suppose).

But simply being on the receiving end of more negative coverage than your primary opponent isn’t the issue. It’s an interesting finding, but the real issue is whether that negative coverage — or your opponent’s more positive coverage — is unwarranted. After all, if we believe that, in an ideal world, news coverage should consist of reporting the days events and putting them in an appropriate context for consumers, negative coverage makes sense if someone’s doing stupid shit.

Was coverage of McCain inappropriately unfavorable, or is it a decent reflection of a troubled campaign? Was coverage of Obama fairly even-handed, or does it reflect some “media bias” toward the Democratic candidate?

I’ll let you visit the Pew site to read the specifics, but here’s the conclusion of the overview (emphasis mine):

What the findings also reveal is the reinforcing — rather than press-generated — effects of media. We see a repeating pattern here in which the press first offers a stenographic account of candidate rhetoric and behavior, while also on the watch for misstatements and gaffes. Then, in a secondary reaction, it measures the political impact of what it has reported. This is magnified in particular during presidential races by the prevalence of polling and especially daily tracking. While this echo effect exists in all press coverage, it is far more intense in presidential elections, with the explosion of daily tracking polls, state polls, poll aggregation sites and the 24-hour cable debate over their implications. Even coverage of the candidate’s policy positions and rhetoric, our reading of these stories suggest, was tied to horse race and took on its cast.

Also, the report makes an interesting point about quantity of coverage, which is certainly relevant to any investigation of potentially skewed coverage:

McCain did succeed in erasing one advantage Obama enjoyed earlier in the campaign—the level of media exposure each candidate received. Since the end of August, the two rivals have been in a virtual dead heat in the amount of attention paid, and when vice presidential candidates are added to the mix the Republican ticket has the edge. This is a striking contrast to the pre-convention period, when Obama enjoyed nearly 50% more coverage.

And here’s an odd-duck fact to wrap this post up:

Nor are these numbers different than what we have seen before. Obama’s numbers are similar to what we saw for John Kerry four years ago as he began rising in the polls, and McCain’s numbers are almost identical to what we saw eight years ago for Democrat Al Gore.

So they’re both losers!

Image courtesy of the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism and its “Winning the Media Campaign” report online invoice nice

Running Against Himself

John McCain on George Bush’s failures during his time in office:

Spending, the conduct of the war in Iraq for years, growth in the size of government, larger than any time since the Great Society, laying a $10 trillion debt on future generations of America, owing $500 billion to China, obviously, failure to both enforce and modernize the [financial] regulatory agencies that were designed for the 1930s and certainly not for the 21st century, failure to address the issue of climate change seriously.

John McCain on his support for George Bush:

“There was a recent study that showed that I voted with the president over 90 percent of the time, higher than a lot of my even Republican colleagues.”

Not making that sale, Senator.

- Austin

Photo credit: Getty Images income tax calculator fine

Arne Carlson Comes Out

“Arne” is about useful as “Barack” in the political realm (don’t even get me started on “Elwyn”) so maybe it was the sympathy factor that led former Minnesota Governor Arne Carlson to cross party lines and endorse Barack Obama today.

According to the Pioneer Press, Carlson told a crowd at the State Capitol that, “We have in Barack Obama the possibility of a truly great president.”  He also credited beleaguered 6th District Congresswoman Michele Bachmann with being the final straw that cause him to “jump ship” with her assertion on national television last weekend that Obama “may have anti-American views.” Like many of us, this struck Governor Carlson as McCarthyism and “the audacity to decide who is an American and who isn’t.”

He also apparently called Bachmann’s views “strange” for good measure.  You can listen to his remarks, courtesy of MPR, here.

I knew my vote for him in 1994 was well-placed.

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How McCain Can Win

John McCain has exactly one chance to thread the needle in the next 12 days and it requires him to win an uphill battle for Pennsylvania and its 21 electoral votes.*  Nothing else matters.

To understand this, let’s pretend we’re flies on the wall of Team McCain’s sanctum sanctorum, his top-secret war room. Above the flat-panel TVs there’s a sign that says, “It’s not the stupid economy!” and all over the walls are maps. Lots and lots of maps.

*There is another scenario currently being kicked around that starts with the assumption that McCain holds all of the 2004 Bush states.  This strikes me as substantially less likely as the scenario laid out here, but your mileage may vary, as the saying goes.  If you’re interested in a round-up of all of the ways people are speculating that McCain might yet come back, check out this post from New York Magazine.

Continue reading

Fifth Look in the Cage…

Last two weeks, time for a new color for the countdown calendar.

With just 14 days to go before the big dance, it’s pretty ugly in the cage, particularly if your heart runs to the Red side of the aisle.  Despite the “tightening” of the race in recent days, something that usually happens in the last days of a presidential campaign, the map still looks awfully good for Team Obama:

Based on my latest look at the various polling sites – Real Clear Politics, Pollster, Polling Report, FiveThirtyEight, etc. – it’s still Obama’s to win (or lose).  And, while Obama’s momentum has slowed and states like Ohio (which I had tilted toward Obama in the last look) and Florida (which some had tilted Blue as well) have moved back into the toss-up category, Obama still retains a commanding lead in electoral votes (286-163 by my estimate) meaning that McCain could win all the remaining battleground states and still lose.  Hence the importance of Pennsylvania in these last two weeks; even though McCain is down there by as much as 12-14 points, it is the only play left to him that gets him above 270 (all the toss-ups plus PA makes the final count 273-265 for McCain).

There are, however, a number of problems with that scenario.  First, as noted above, McCain is losing in PA badly at present and the trend there does not seem to be coming back his way as illustrated by Pollster’s poll tracking:

Second, winning all the toss-ups is a stretch.  By some estimates, Nevada is gone and North Carolina is headed there as well (Pollster just tipped NC to leaning Blue).  Then there’s the money disadvantage exacerbated by the fact that the GOP is having to spend resources defending states like MT, ND, GA and WV (pink because the trends there may be swinging – sometimes strongly – to the Dems).  And the impact of the Powell endorsement in states like Florida.  And on and on…

Bottom line, though, is don’t ice the champagne  – or line up the shot glasses – just yet for either party.  A lot can still happen and a lot will.  As political consultant Steve Lombardo noted in an e-mail to clients today:

Two weeks from Election Day and this much is clear: Barack Obama has owned the last 30 days. This has propelled him into the lead and provided him with considerable momentum heading into the final stretch. The deteriorating economy continues to be the driving factor in this race; it is the fuel in the Obama engine and it seems unlikely that it will run out. The LCG regression model projects that if the election were held today John McCain would lose by 7.7 points. If the current trend is projected to Election Day he loses by double digits. However, this election–more than ever before–is about the 24-hour news cycle, tactical maneuvers and rapid response, some of which may impact the general trajectory of the campaign. [Emphasis added].

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What’s An Endorsement Worth?

In the days of my youth, when I worked in politics, the Sundays before elections were times of great anticipation as you’d wait to see which candidates earned which endorsements from the local papers.  In my town of St. Louis, these picks were generally pretty predictable – the Globe-Democrat was reliably Republican and the Post-Dispatch was reliably Democratic – but there were always a few surprises along with a few unexpected digs and compliments.

In today’s Internet age, conventional wisdom is that such endorsements are less important than they used to be and I suspect that’s probably true.  Even so, each editorial represents the judgement of some thoughtful writers and merits consideration.

In 2004, John Kerry won the editorial endorsement race 213-205, a squeaker by anyone’s standards.  The kind folks at Editor & Publisher – who compiled the 2004 stats – are again tracking this aspect of the election and so far it doesn’t appear to shaping up to a close one.  The current count is 76-18 in favor of Senator Obama and includes some papers – like the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune – that have never endorsed Democrats and a slew of papers that are conservative-leaning and/or endorsed Bush in 2004 – the Denver Post, the New York Daily News, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Austin American Statesman, the Houston Chronicle and the Salt Lake Tribune.

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Wow…

Just released numbers settle once and for all the merits of the June decision of the Obama campaign to forego federal campaign financing.

They raised $150 million in September.  That beat the record – set in August by Team Obama – of $67 million.  The Democratic party released almost simultaneously the news that they had raised nearly $50 million more.

The campaign reports new donors of 632,000 and an average contribution of $86.

These numbers are so big they may create something of a mini-issue for Obama and friends; look for the GOP spin today on the talk shows to be “Obama is trying to buy the election.”  As someone who’s mostly backed the Dems over the last 30 years, the irony of the GOP crying poor for once is enjoyable.

This also, I think, is the death knell of public campaign financing. Nobody is ever going to put themselves at the disadvantage McCain finds himself in.

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Al Smith Saves the Presidential Race

Finally. Something good to say about the presidential race. At the Al Smith dinner in New York Thursday night, Barack Obama and John McCain showed their best. They came together at the same table, “without preconditions,” as Obama said, and each showed why they are their party’s nominees. And they reassured me that this is a great country, or what.

Humor salves the wounds of eight years of an atrocious president, of way too many months of sordid campaigning, of my fear that hope would miss its rendezvous with our destiny. McCain and Obama gave 15-minute talks that were funny and gracious and biting and wonderful. Take a look, if you haven’t seen this. Watch it again if you have. This YouTube clip is just the beginning of McCain’s talk — go to YouTube and watch it all, McCain first, then Obama. Just search “Al Smith dinner.”

McCain was the man I admired in the 2000 race. He was witty and charming and gracious to Obama while skewering him. At the end, he paid tribute to this country that is seriously considering, finally, a black candidate for president. McCain’s timing and facial expressions were fabulous. And Obama was having a ball. He laid Sara Palin to rest with a quip about the Russian Tea Room, he laughed at the Ayers crap and at his own middle name, and in the end found the highest ground, as he always does, evoking what America can be.

For at least a half-hour, you can feel good about this endless slog for the White House by watching Obama and McCain show their guts, their giggles and their souls. The affair even made me feel a little tender toward Hillary Clinton — and that takes some doing. Enjoy.
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Beyond Joe

Based on last night’s presidential debate market research, this morning more than a few undecided voters feel little like middle child Jan Brady of the Brady Bunch fed up with too much attention heaped on a high achieving sibling: “Marsha, Marsha, Marsha! That’s all I hear about it is Marsha!”

I feel ya, Jan. Joe the Plumber, Joe the Plumber, Joe the Plumber! That’s all we heard about last night was Joe the Plumber!

John McCain’s use of a single undecided voter who apparently is one of the relatively few Americans who would do better under McCain’s tax plan than Obama’s was a savvy PR move that was executed with remarkable discipline. By some accounts, McCain mentioned JTP twenty times.

The framing worked spectacularly well. Last night, the Prince of Plumbs was all the rage with the pundits, who are always anxious to create the illusion that they have the pulse of “ordinary people.” Today’s news cycle will be clogged with breathless follow-up stories wondering “how will Joe vote?,” and I’d be very surprised if Joe isn’t in a McCain ad very soon.

How big of a triumph is this PR stunt? Huge, because if undecided Joe is leaning McCain — a fair bet since he’s been calling Obama a “socialist” on Fox News — he is a statistical abberation being portayed as a definitive divining rod. After all, according to a CBS poll of undecided voters, about twice as many undecided voters broke in Obama’s direction than McCain’s following the debate. And according to the dial testing of undecided voters randomly selected by CNN, undecided voters were as irked as Jan Brady about the Plumberpalooza, because their squiggly lines veered downward whenever Joe was mentioned by Roter Rooter rooting McCain.

Yet despite all this evidence of what large samples of undecided voters thought, the news media is adopting McCain’s framing of Joe as the very embodiment of undecided voters. While I admire McCain’s skill in executing the framing tactic, I can see why undecideds are irked. I’m sure Joe is a great guy, but Joe is not Everyman. He is a relatively rich white male, not unlike Joe the PR Consultant. Not Trump rich, not even close, but from a statistical standpoint, it sounds like America’s Plumber will be richer than nine out of ten if he is able to purchase his business.

And good for Joe. Joe is very much part of the American fabric, and a hopeful sign that the American dream lives on. But there is also more to America than lunch bucket white guys who are making it. Jane the teacher, Bob the sanitary engineer, Leroy the insurance adjuster, Maria the housecleaner, Abdul the factory worker, Monica the unemployed customer service rep, Ron the retiree, Amber the potential college student and the others among the 80-95% of Americans who would do better under Obama’s plan…they all deserve some attention from McCain and the media too.

Joe matters a lot, but he’s not the only one who matters. “Marsha, Marsha, Marhsa!” No wonder those dial testers went south.

- Loveland

P.S. Information that became available after this was originally posted made it clear that JTP’s income is well below $250,000, so he would not receive a tax increase under the Obama plan after all. He would get a tax cut under the Obama plan.

Therefore, this charcterization of JTP from my original post is inaccurate: “…a single undecided voter who apparently is one of the relatively few Americans who would do better under McCain’s tax plan than Obama’s.”
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Kristol’s Advice to McCain — I Hope McCain Doesn’t Take It

William Kristol is advising John McCain to fire his campaign. In today’s New York Times, Kristol has a provocative piece saying McCain should “junk the whole thing and start over. Shut down the rapid responses, end the frantic e-mails, bench the spinning surrogates, stop putting up new TV and Internet ads every minute. In fact, pull all the ads — they’re doing no good anyway. Use that money for televised town halls and half-hour addresses in prime time.”

Kristol points out how screwed up McCain’s campaign has been — “Its combination of strategic incoherence and operational incompetence has become toxic.” Time to let McCain be McCain.

This sounds like the ultimate hail-Mary — and it’s bold, like Norm Coleman pulling his negative ads. Never mind the rationalizations, or the appearance of flip-flopping. Here in the closing days, becoming yourself is not bad advice. What Kristol is advocating is more of a “monkey pass,” where you pass the ball to yourself.

It could work. One of the reasons I liked John McCain in 2000 was what I saw on C-SPAN’s televised town halls. McCain was indeed a straight speaker. You could see his character. After one talk, he put off shaking hands with big Republican fund-raisers to say thanks to and shake hands with the high-school band behind him who’d played for the rally. I liked the guy.

The danger is that that John McCain has disappeared. It may be deeper than having hired bad handlers, or handlers at all. May be a bigger problem than that Steve Schmidt has turned McCain into an ogre. McCain may have made a deal with the devil — embracing the right-wing religious zealots he once called “agents of intolerance,” for example, or hiring Schmidt, a Rove clone — and now can’t get his soul back even if he wants to.

Kristol says McCain and Sara Palin should open up to the media on their campaign planes and busses. That’s truly dicey. It could work for McCain, if he can find his soul again. But for Palin? The more unfettered access, the more completely unqualified to be VP or president she reveals herself to be. Daylight is harsh to Gov. Palin.

Still — McCain seems to have little chance flailing along the way he has been. Kristol’s advice seems like a good call — and I admit I think Kristol is smart because this column echoes many TSRC entries — and half a political novel — I’ve written about canning image and message advisors and being yourself. A monkey pass to yourself might work, might not, but, as Kristol says at the end of his piece, “He’d enjoy it. And he might even win.”

– Bruce Benidt

(Photo from NY Times) adp paystatements fine

Desperately Seeking Susceptibility

A quote from Saturday’s New York Times:

In Pennsylvania, Robert A. Gleason Jr., the state Republican chairman, said he was concerned that Mr. McCain’s increasingly aggressive tone was not working with moderate voters and women in the important southeastern part of a state that is at the top of Mr. McCain’s must-win list.

“They’re not as susceptible to attack ads,” Mr. Gleason said. “I worry about the southeast. Obama is making inroads.”

That calls the attack ad like it is, eh? tax amnesty fine

This Ain’t Over…

Yes, the tides are running Blue these days, but there are still 27 days to go and today’s national polls present at least the possibility that the race is narrowing again:

The fat lady is warming up in the wings, but she ain’t singing yet.  The McCainite’s are feeling the heat, but not the blues; as the Washington Post‘s Dan Balz described it:

It was a late night for John McCain’s campaign — a post-debate repast of karaoke until the wee hours of the rain-soaked morning. They sang neither in celebration nor to drown their sorrows. Tuesday’s debate did not fundamentally alter the race.

Instant polls judged Barack Obama the winner. The post-debate chatter on the cable channels tended to favor Obama. Even reliably conservative voices on CNN — Alex Castellanos, Leslie Sanchez and William Bennett — found it hard to award the evening to McCain. When the polls are heading in one direction, conventional wisdom follows.

Which is why McCain needs the numbers to move, even a bit, the other way. He’s like the stock markets. Lack of confidence breeds retreat. He needs an injection of fresh political confidence in his presidential candidacy.

Mark Salter, the candidate’s alter ego and confidant, was in the lobby of McCain’s hotel Wednesday, neither grim nor giddy but still shaking out cobwebs. “We’ve been dead before,” he said.

He would know, having weathered McCain’s long, wild ride through the primaries and now the general election. But is there a plan? “We can’t die again,” he said.

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Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is…

Looking to spend even more time obsessing about the election?  We here at the Crowd are here for you with a site that let’s you combine politics with the free market; seems appropriate given the financial disaster all around us.

The National Journal has created a Political Stock Exchange where players can use play money to make political predictions.  I just bought 499 shares of Obama to win (currently selling at about 75) and sold 499 shares of McCain to win (betting, in other words, that he will lose).  I also bought 100 shares of the Dems winning 56-60 seats in the Senate.

Markets of this sort have been eerily accurate in predicting all sorts of complex events.  The Defense Department tried to set one – the Policy Analysis Market – to help it predict terrorism but shut it down after some bad PR about the propriety of “betting” on such events.

James Surowiecki wrote an interesting book on this subject – The Wisdom of Crowds - for interested Crowdies.  A Wikipedia article on the book with links to the larger topic is here.

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As If the Debate Weren’t Enough…

The Washington Post‘s Chris Cillizza notes today that in almost every state, Team Obama is massively outspending Team McCain PLUS the Republican National Committee and in so doing, forcing the McCainites to make tough choices about which battleground states to contest and to spend their finite money defending their own turf.

From Sept. 30 to Oct. 6, Obama spent more than $20 million on television ads in 17 states including more than $3 million in Pennsylvania and more than $2 million each in Florida, Michigan and Ohio. McCain in that same time frame spent just $7.2 million in 15 states. Even when the Republican National Committee’s independent expenditure spending in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin is factored in (a total of $5.3 million), Obama still outspent the combined GOP forces by roughly $8 million in the last week alone

Cillizza notes that the air war is not confined to battleground states; in states like Virginia and North Carolina – which have voted Red since 1964 – Obama is pouring advertising in at a prodigious rate: In North Carolina, Obama spent about $1.5 million on television commercials last week while McCain spent only $137,000. In Virginia, Obama spent $1.6 million on ads last week while McCain and the RNC together only spent $909,000. Not surprisingly, perhaps, both states are now toss-ups in many pollsters’ calculations. accounting services fine

But I Don’t Know If He Won Enough

The debate was – on the whole – refreshingly civilized on both sides.  For whatever reason, Senator McCain decided not to directly attack Senator Obama on character and while both sides did their share of hammering the other guy’s record and proposals, they spent the majority of the time talking about their ideas.  This was much closer to Loveland’s “wouldn’t it be nice if” scenario he outlined earlier today.

Early reviews from CNN’s panel of endlessly talking heads was that it wasn’t a game-changer and that’s the way I saw it too.  Obama accomplished his goals of – again – appearing calm, collected and – yes – Presidential and McCain did not – again – succeed in portraying Obama as inexperienced or himself as a more compelling leader.

The CBS instant poll of undecided voters indicated 40 percent of the 516 respondents said Barack Obama was the winner; 26 percent said John McCain won and 34 percent saw the debate as a draw.  The CNN poll of debate watchers had it 54-30 in favor of Obama.  Neither poll had much good news for the Arizona Senator…54 percent of CNN respondents said Obama seemed to be the stronger leader during the debate versus 43 percent for McCain; viewers though Obama was more likeable than McCain 65 percent to 28 percent;  a majority thought Obama was more intelligent, 57 percent to 25, and 60 percent thought Obama more clearly expressed himself than McCaiBefn (30 percent).

In the CBS poll results, 80 percent thought Obama understands voters’ needs and problems versus 44 percent for McCain.  McCain, however, did come out on top in one measurement: 83 percent thought he was ready to be president versus just 58 percent for Obama.

The talking heads were critical of the format and of moderator Tom Brokaw, but I thought Brokaw was right to let them talk and at one point to ignore the rules and actually respond to one another.  It was almost like a real debate.

Tomorrow, of course, Team McCain will be back on the character offensive (and Team Obama will resume playing offensive defense), but for tonight we were spared another round of Ayers versus Keating.

Fueling the McCain attack tomorrow will be a new CNN look at the Obama-Ayers connection that is more suggestive than the New York Times‘ treatment from last week.  This will no doubt be a relief to Ms. Palin as I’m sure having to cite the Times was causing canker sores.

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Listen, John, We Could REALLY Use a Win Tonight

I haven’t had much time to look at this in-depth but I noticed Pollster.com has updated its map to an astoundingly lopsided 320-163 electoral vote estimate.  Based on the arrival of 17 state polls today, the map is bluer than its been since 1964 and highlights the situation Senator McCain faces.  With 27 days to go, tonight’s debate represents one of his last best hopes for reversing a trend.

If the map is even directionally right, Senator McCain is looking at the real possibility of being reduced to a regional candidate who runs well only in the south and mountain/high plains states.

No pressure, though.  Just be yourself.

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Sarah Reborn…

America’s favorite moose hunter (c’mon, do you know any others?)  was stepping out a little today, upbraiding the campaign’s decision to pull out of Michigan.  As the New York Times put it,

Ms. Palin made it clear she had not been consulted about the McCain campaign’s decision to pull its ads and campaign operation out of Michigan, a tacit admission that it could not win there. She had found out the morning of the debate, she said, and fired off an e-mail to campaign brass to let them know she was disappointed.

I think it’s a really, really good thing if Governor Palin takes on more campaign management responsibilities in the last 30 days of the campaign.  She has all that executive experience, after all.  Maybe she’ll get them back into California, too.

:)

Ms. Palin made her comments in a Fox News interview with Carl Cameron that is a continuation of the “friendly fire” strategy they’ve adopted for her media engagement.  It worked well again and – surprise – it turns out that when asked the “What do you read?” and “What Supreme Court decisions do you disagree with?” questions again, gosh darn it she can answer ‘em now.  She implies that she could have answered them during the Couric interviews but she was “filtered.”

Right.

I also picked up the repeat of a line from the debate that apparently Ms. Palin has been told to use anytime she finds herself at odds with a McCain position (as she was with Michigan):

Palin said it should surprise no one she disagrees with the McCain on strategy regarding Michigan, saying they are “a team of mavericks. Of course we’re not gonna agree on everything.”

As we used to say in the software business, it’s not a bug, it’s a feature!

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Fourth Look Inside the Cage

Things have certainly changed in just a few weeks.

Loyal readers will recall that on September 14th – less than three weeks ago – I posted my guesstimate of where things stood in terms of electoral votes.  At that time, it turns out, John McCain and Sarah Palin were enjoying something near the top of their popularity and the map reflected their success in pulling even or ahead in a number of key battleground states.  At that time, the map looked like this:

  • That was the day after Tina Fey began slow-roasting Governor Palin.
  • And, then on September 15th came, “The fundamentals of the economy are strong.”
  • September 16th – Carly Fiorina says nobody’s qualified to run Hewlett-Packard (and hasn’t been seen since)
  • September 24 – Senator McCain “suspends” the campaign.
  • September 25 – The bailout deal blows up and even conservatives start wondering about Governor Palin as the first Couric interview air.  McCain stiffs Letterman.
  • September 26 – The debate happens after all – Obama is judged the winner.
  • September 27 – Another send-up by Saturday Night Live.
  • September 28 – New York Times runs extraordinarily detailed piece on McCain ties to gambling.
  • September 29 – Bailout bill blows up, primarily because McCain homies – aka the House Republicans – do not take one for the Gipper.
  • September 30 – John McCain reduced to handler, sitting in on Couric/Palin interview to make sure his running mate stays on message.
  • October 1 – More from the Couric vaults, Governor Palin can’t name a Supreme Court decision she disagrees with or a magazine or newspaper she reads.  A new low.

All of which unfolds against the backdrop of the greatest economic calamity this country has experienced in nearly 80 years, a disaster that ends up lying on the doorstep of the party in power for eight years.  Despite McCain’s efforts to disassociate himself with his party, his president and his 26 years in Washington, DC, this fact is apparently not lost on many voters.

As a result, now the map looks like this:

Ugh.  That’s an ugly map if you’re a Republican strategist.

First thing to note is that the trends of the last couple of weeks have driven some states previously considered toss-ups into the Blue Team’s camp.  Specifically, Michigan (17 electoral votes), where the McCain forces are pulling out, Minnesota (10), New Jersey (15), New Mexico (5), Ohio (20) and Pennsylvania (21) have all tipped to Obama/Biden based on the most recent polling (as always, you’re welcome to visit Pollster, Polling Report, Real Clear Politics or any other site you like and draw your own conclusions).

To make matters worse, for a Republican looking for a way out, all of the battleground states that are left to be contested are states (except New Hampshire) that went for George Bush in 2004 and 2000:

  • Colorado 9 votes
  • Florida 27
  • Indiana 11
  • Missouri 11
  • New Hampshire 4
  • Nevada 5
  • North Carolina 14
  • Virginia 13

To win, McCain/Palin has to win in all of these states plus wrestle one or two back from the Blue side of the force.  This can be done, of course, but the window is closing rapidly as people are making up their minds (albeit slowly as most polls are still reporting high single-digit undecideds) and because voting is going on right now.  According to the Census Bureau, approximately 20 million voters cast their ballots before election day in 2004; the number is expected to be substantially higher this year. For a big chunk of the population, in other words, an “October surprise” or any other development will not be a voting influencer.  My gut – all too expansive and jiggly – tells me it will take near-perfect performance from Team McCain and an Obama/Biden collapse to pull off.

The next 32 days are going to be interesting.

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Circus Secundus

Some of the nicest, most gentle people I know are anticipating the Biden/Palin debate this evening with a decidedly bloodthirsty glint in their eyes.  You’d think Sarah Palin caused Tourette’s to judge by the language I’ve heard in the last 48 hours.

The stakes are admittedly pretty high, especially for Team McCain.  Given the momentum swing of the last two weeks, a truly disastrous performance by Governor Palin might make this election all but irretrievable with barely four weeks to go.  Conversely, a stellar Palin performance could be the pivot that starts a swing back to the Red side of the force.

That said, I’m guessing most of those wishing for a Palin collapse won’t leave entirely satisfied.  After almost two weeks of unremitting negative press, there are signs that Governor Palin is beginning to get her legs back under her.  As proof, I offer a clip from yesterday’s Early Show where Ms. Palin was far more lucid than any of the previous clips.  This reminds me that the Governor is not in the least bit stupid and – by all accounts – a very hard worker.

I would also offer a post from ABC News today that details her debate prep:

Palin’s debate preparations have been a mix of reading, listening to oral presentations and engaging in mock debates.  A foreign policy advisor, Randy Scheunemann, played the role of Joe Biden.  Aides say Palin has not been asked to memorize anything.

This strikes me as exactly the right approach as it’s not Ms. Palin’s ability to memorize talking points that’s in question, it’s her knowledge of the context in which the sound bites are uttered that’s missing.  For example, she can, I’m sure, parrot the McCain position on why the surge in Afghanistan is necessary, but if the follow-up asks her to distinguish between our presence there and the Afghan experience of previous foreign powers, she’s almost certainly lost.  Ditto on almost any other topic – the bailout, terrorism, taxes, etc.

At the same time, however, even the best prep won’t give Ms. Palin all the tools she needs to win outright.  You can’t compensate for this lack of perspective in a day or two of prep, even in the beautiful confines of the McCain compound in Sedona.  It just strikes me as a better approach than simply cramming in more and more sound bites.

Some of those trying to raise expectations for Ms. Palin have made much of her success in the debates during the Alaska gubernatorial race, but from what I’ve seen of those, she mostly did well by being the third candidate who was mostly ignored by the other two “real” candidates.  This allowed her to pick her moments to slip in some one-liners and some sound bites that didn’t score a lot of debate points but which did resonate with voters.  This is, Minnesotans will recall, the same tactic Jesse Ventura employed effectively in the debates with Norm Coleman and Skip Humphrey.  She won’t be able to do this in a two-person debate.

My prediction:  a couple of Palin faux pas, albeit none rising to the level of the Couric interviews, and a couple of word bobbles but no real bombs, from Biden.

Ms. Ifill, who has been the target of pretty intense blog/media attack over her upcoming book, will play it absolutely straight (she’s about as solid a journalist as you can find) and will give neither side reason to crow or complain.

Team Palin’s post-debate spin:  “America got  to see and hear the real Sarah Palin tonight, free of the distortion of the mainstream media, and they saw why John McCain picked her as his running mate:  she’s a strong, competent woman with a record of real accomplsihment and reform who will change things in Washington.  She went up against a lion of the Senate tonight and more than held her own, she showed America that McCain/Palin is the real ticket for change this country needs.”

Team Biden’s post-debate spin:  “America wanted to hear tonight about the issues that are really important and that’s exactly what Joe Biden did by talking about how eight years of George Bush, John McCain and the Republican party have put us in the worst economic crisis since Herbert Hoover and the Great Depression.  Senator Biden spelled out the Obama/Biden policies and really underlined the choice we have come election day: a third term for George Bush and the Republican’s bankrupt, trickle-down economic policies or the real change for working men and women that Obama/Biden represents.”

The blogosphere will, of course, erupt with spin from both directions and my rule of thumb is that the more frantic the spinning from one side or the other, the more worried they are that their guy or gal got the worse of it.

Either way, what fun.

- Austin how to invest fine

My Bodyguard…

The Sarah Palin trainwreck is the story that just keeps on giving.

Today, in what has to be a new low in presidential politics, Senator John McCain actually sat in on Katie Couric’s latest interview with Governor Palin to help her answer those hardballs Ms. Couric keeps throwing.  You know, tough questions like, “Are you sorry you said it?”

Senator McCain, acting every bit like a lawyer with a loose-lipped client at a deposition, jumps in at the least provocation and in the process only highlights how nervous he is about letting his running mate talk.  Governor Palin, who looks way, way, way happier sitting across from Ms. Couric with her protector at her side, actually manages to produce sentences that are more than fragments and that actually contain a subject and a verb (or a couple of each).  The subjects and verbs don’t always agree, but hey, it’s an improvement.

A lot has been written about the sexist treatment of Governor Palin since her announcement, but the most egregious examples – including this – have come from Team McCain.

Amazing.

- Austin

PS. Here’s some reviews of the performance:  The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Boston Herald, the Boston Herald again, the Los Angeles Times, the Baltimore Sun, Editor & Publisher, and CNN’s AC 360.

And, for those of you who – in the words of Kathleen Parker – have exhausted your “cringe refex,” here’s a warning so you can start avoiding the television: according to the Guardian newspaper’s political blogger, “Meanwhile, CBS is reportedly sitting on footage of Palin proving herself unable to name any Supreme Court decision except Roe versus Wade.”

Let’s go to the tape machine.

PPS – As with her interview with Charles Gibson, the scariest part of yesterday’s interview was Governor Palin’s enduring absolute certainty that she’s up to this job:

Couric: Gov. Palin, since our last interview, you’ve gotten a lot of flak. Some Republicans have said you’re not prepared; you’re not ready for prime-time. People have questioned your readiness since that interview. And I’m curious …

Palin: Yeah.

Couric: … to hear your reaction.

Palin: Well, not only am I ready, but willing and able to serve as vice-president with Sen. McCain if Americans so bless us and privilege us with the opportunity of serving them, ready with my executive experience as a city mayor and manager, as a governor, as a commissioner, a regulator of oil and gas.

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Oops…

Looks like Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Minority Leader John Boehner need bigger whips. The Wall Street bailout bill went down 205-228, with Republicans voting against it by better than 2-to-1.

The Dow is dropping through the floor. At Noon, it was down 250 points; after the vote went down, it fell like a rock and even though it bounced around a bit, the after-market numbers keep dropping.  Right now, it’s blown right through the largest single-day loss record of 722.11 points and is 777.68 points down.   This chart doesn’t reflect the after-market drop, but it does illustrate the reaction of the market to the vote.

Putting everything into political terms – because that’s where we’ll end up – my first approximation analysis is that this is a very bad development for John McCain.  His only slender reed of justification for his actions of last week was that he helped the House Republicans get back in the negotiation process.  That reed has now been snapped.

The House Republicans huddled after the vote and came out to declare that their failure to deliver their own party was…Nancy Pelosi’s fault.  According to their spin, her harsh partisan rhetoric hurt the feelings of many House Republicans.  Please.

They do, though, have one valid point:  the Dems let 94 of their own votes off the ranch.  That wouldn’t have happened under Sam Rayburn.

The Dems were a little less partisan, but not much.  They pointed out – appropriately I think – that this was a Republican initiative from a Republican administration and despite that, the Dems stepped up and 60 percent of them supported the bill.  Less than 35 percent of Republicans did the same.

There won’t be another vote today as members are already leaving to be home for Roshashana.  No further word on the schedule.

George Bush just spoke to express his disappointment.  His remarks – to me anyway – only underline how irrelevant he’s become to the process.  I think most Americans would probably rather here from Hank Paulson at this point.

The talking heads on CNN are sounding panicky.  They have mostly dropped any pretense of being objective about the “news”; I just heard one of the plead that “those of you who are in a position to do something about this, time is of the essence.  The markets are shut down.”

Developing…

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JohnMcCain.com on the Blink?

I was trying to find out what the McCain-Palin campaign had scheduled today and tomorrow and encountered the following message in about half of the links:

Error
We’re sorry. There appears to have been an error with your request. Please try again or if the problem continues, please contact us.
If you were trying to connect to a McCainSpace site, you may have entered the web address incorrectly. Please remember there is no “www” in a McCainSpace site. Simply replace the “www” with the name of the McCainSpace site (i.e.: http://SITENAME.johnmccain.com).

Go to the campaign web site and check it out for yourself. Let me know what you experience.

- Austin

PS – I still haven’t found out what Team McCain is up to today. e-marketing fine

McCain the Decider

The press reported last week that one of the first things John McCain did upon “rushing back” to DC (as an aside, it took about 20 hours to get from New York to DC with stops along the way at Katie Couric’s desk and at the Clinton Global Initiative) to “meet until this crisis is resolved” was to meet with a number of his Senate colleagues where he “chided them for assenting to a deal without his input.”  He then proceeded to play a lead role in blowing up the tentative Wall Street bailout deal worked out by Democrats and Republicans.  Collectively, his behavior was a “What about me?” episode that every parent will recognize: I want to choose!  Or, as President Bush once said, “I’m the decider and I’ll decide what’s best.”

Friday, the decider-in-waiting had a couple of meetings – less than an hour overall – with Republicans in both houses of Congress before backtracking on his demand to postpone the debate and flying off to Memphis.  Yesterday, according to the McCain campaign, Senator McCain didn’t meet at all but instead worked the phones from his northern Virginia campaign office, calling various parties regarding the negotiations which had creaked back into motion.  We’re not sure what he did or who he called, but the campaign told us he called President Bush; Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson; Fed chairman Ben S. Bernanke; Senator Mitch McConnell, Senator Judd Gregg, Senator Jon Kyl, Representative John A. Boehner and Representative Roy Blunt.  He got to his office at about 12:30 PM, the deal was announced about twelve hours later; that’s about one phone call every 90 minutes, less if you assume he took a break for dinner.

This morning a number of behind-the-scenes accounts of how the deal was reached have been posted.  Where’s the tick-tock on Senator McCain’s work in this effort?

Well, in the Wall Street Journal, he appears in the second-to-last paragraph (of 27 paragraphs): “Republican nominee Sen. John McCain, interviewed by ABC’s “This Week,” said, “This is something that all of us will swallow hard and go forward with.”

Senator McCain does better in the New York Times‘ write-up, appearing in the 10th paragraph (of 51 paragraphs overall):

At the same time, a series of phone calls was taking place, including conversations between Ms. Pelosi and President Bush; between Mr. Paulson and the two presidential candidates, Senator John McCain and Senator Barack Obama; and between the candidates and top lawmakers.

And again in the 16th and 17th paragraphs:

Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain both expressed support for the rescue package early on Sunday, while adding that it was hardly a moment for taxpayers to cheer.

“This is something that all of us will swallow hard and go forward with,” Mr. McCain said in an interview on ABC’s “This Week.” “The option of doing nothing is simply not an option.”

And once more in the 44th paragraph:

Early in the day, the two presidential nominees were active from the sidelines. Mr. McCain telephoned Congressional Republicans to sound them out, and Mr. Obama got regular updates by phone from Mr. Paulson and top lawmakers.

In the Washington Post‘s coverage, Senator McCain appears not at all.

That’s some leadership. Some deciding.

- Austin

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