Call it Version 2.2: The "New" John McCain?
In the final United States presidential debate of the year, to be held tonight at Hofstra University between Democratic presidential nominee Senator Barack Obama and Republican nominee Senator John McCain, Mike Madden of salon.com questions, "Which John McCain will show up to debate?"
Yes, America, there is yet another new John McCain on the campaign trail now, after yet another campaign "reset" over the weekend (albeit one that didn't involve any melodramatic suspensions). This one promises to fight, and he pounds the podium as he says, "Yes, we will," a slogan that sounds strangely familiar. The new McCain, though, appears to have some of his supporters pining for the old version, the one who would bring up Bill Ayers and challenge his opponent's character more directly, asking, conspiratorially, "Who is Barack Obama?"
You know, the McCain from last week.
A day before the final presidential debate of the year -- and three weeks before Election Day -- McCain's campaign still seems to be struggling to figure out how to regain momentum in a race that, for him, has gone south faster than a retiree with a ticket to Florida. (That is, if the retiree still has any savings left to head south with.) McCain himself is sticking to a kindler, gentler stump speech that only impugns Obama's policies, not his personality, and his rallies are more carefully controlled by the campaign -- at least in part because polling found voters were starting to turn away from McCain, rather than Obama, because of McCain's sharp tone.
But it's not clear the new McCain -- call it McCain version 2.2, since he already restarted his campaign last summer, then twice suspended it this fall in response to a hurricane and the economic collapse -- will resonate better with voters than the old one did. "I'm not as skeptical of this particular reset message as I am skeptical of the fact that it's about his 10th reset message over the last four months," said one Republican consultant who worked for a McCain rival in the primaries but supports McCain now. "Presidential campaigns are won with a devotion to the methodical, and unfortunately, this campaign is just a nonstop compilation of distractions about the trivial."
It's also not clear which tone McCain will try to take in the debate Wednesday night at Hofstra University. His promise to bring up Ayers -- apparently because Obama goaded him into it -- doesn't bode well for a high-minded discussion of the economy, the stated topic for the final debate. McCain is cramming in far more prep time for these encounters than he ever did in the primaries (when aides actually stopped prepping ahead of time and switched to town hall meetings on debate days instead), which some supporters worry may not be helping him. The format of this debate, where both Obama and McCain will be seated at a table with the moderator, CBS' Bob Schieffer, ought to make harsh attacks even more awkward than in the last two debates -- he would be ripping the head off of a man with whom he's supposed to be sitting and having a faux-civil conversation.
Related coverage on tonight's presidential debate by NowPublic author AmyJudd, can be read here: "Obama vs McCain! Final debate tonight!"