IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Is McCain winning the week?

The GOP is taking advantage of a bloated media scrum, with lots of airtime and column inches but little real "news" to cover, to push a particularly bold, even outlandish, set of messages.
Image: John McCain
Presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has managed to keep some portion of the media's attention all through this week's Democratic National Convention.Mary Altaffer / AP
/ Source: National Journal

The Clintons blew the roof off the Pepsi Center this week with two nights of sparkling oratory. With Michelle Obama's speech, another (rock) star was born. Even brought the house down with his WWE-style surprise appearance. But it's unclear whether any of that really scored points for the Democratic ticket in the Mile High City, where 's campaign is on its game. Barack Obama's, not so much.

I first started thinking McCain's campaign could actually "win the week" early Monday, before the first Democratic speaker had taken the stage, when they announced they were dispatching Cindy McCain overseas to meet with Georgia President Mikheil Saakashvili. Why did that signal good times for Republicans? Because it confirmed that they had dropped even the slightest pretense of restraint during the Democratic convention. Much as they did in Boston in 2004, Republicans are taking advantage of a bloated media scrum, with lots of airtime and column inches but little real "news" to cover, to push a particularly bold, even outlandish, set of messages.

For example: Cindy McCain's "job" this week in the war-torn nation, she explained Tuesday during a press conference in Tbilisi, was "to make sure that the international community does not forget what is going on here." Overlooking the fact that Cindy McCain currently has no official government role, power or authority, the campaign drove home a ballsy message: Our foreign policy expertise isn't limited to our candidate. Heck, even his wife can be a freelance diplomat. (Next week, Cindy McCain negotiates a power-sharing agreement in Zimbabwe).

They launched the first leg of their most audacious strategy Saturday, two days before Democrats convened in Denver, when they released a TV ad using critiques Joseph Biden had lobbed at Obama during the heat of the primary campaign. Obama's campaign fired back with ... a strongly worded press release.

Next up: A series of three more TV ads, and a full-throttled litany of talking points, aimed at exploiting lingering divisions between Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton's supporters, with a focus on women. (So far, they've spent mere pennies on these ad buys, relying instead on free media from a hungry press corps).

On Monday, sulking PUMAs were invited to attend a "Happy Hour for Hillary" in downtown Denver, where Republicans tried to make the case that the logical alternative for them was to support McCain. Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney -- a veteran of the '04 war room in Boston -- made the rounds Tuesday, arguing that Obama owes Clinton supporters "an explanation" for snubbing Clinton for vice president. The strategy has decidedly creepy undertones (imagine some schmo cruising a heartbroken woman, telling her the guy who betrayed her doesn't respect her). But it's sound strategy, and smart politics.

The Obama camp's response was ... another strongly worded press release.

McCain was also blessed with a bit of fortunate timing. Because he's waited until the very last minute to announce his running mate, he was positioned to dispatch an entire retinue of ambitious Republicans to Denver this week. Like any good job applicant, each one gave it his all. The news-starved press ate it up, viewing the story as a twofer -- part veepstakes, part GOP war room.

The GOP's pummeling prompted an eyebrow-raising reaction Tuesday evening from, of all people, James Carville. "The ungraciousness of this entire thing from the Republicans is truly remarkable," said Carville, a strategist not known for political "graciousness."

Indeed, when you're a Republican who gets Carville to express outrage about a lack of grace, you must be doing something right.

At least one survey suggests they are: For the first time in months, a Gallup tracking poll out Tuesday showed McCain leading Obama.