Election 2008

Eric Gay/AP
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., left, and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y.

McCain’s Recycling Plan Includes Political Ads

August 27, 2008 10:40 AM
by Josh Katz
A new John McCain ad makes use of Hillary Clinton’s “3 a.m.” commercial; his campaign is focusing increasingly on previous statements from Obama’s former political foes.

McCain Gets Help from Hillary

As the Democratic National Convention proceeds, Ariz. Sen. John McCain’s campaign has not shied away from exposing apparent contradictions between the Democrats’ presumptive nominee, Ill. Sen. Barack Obama, and his newfound friends. Former Obama rivals for the nomination, N.Y. Sen. Hillary Clinton and Del. Sen. Joe Biden offer McCain fresh fodder for attack right now, though McCain will presumably be open to retaliation via similar tactics after he announces his vice-presidential choice, and during the Republican National Convention, which starts September 1.

As expected, the McCain camp has focused on the former rivalry between Sen. Clinton and Sen. Obama the week that Clinton is speaking at the convention to endorse Obama. Clinton struck a chord among voters when she released her famous “3 a.m.” commercial, asking voters if they trust Obama to make decisions in the midst of a crisis. Many analysts credit that advertisement with Clinton’s success in the Ohio and Texas primaries in March. Clinton won Ohio and split the votes in Texas with Obama.

The McCain campaign released its own version of the ad on August 26. It begins similarly, with a narrator speaking over images of a child sleeping in bed: “It’s 3 a.m. and your children are safe and asleep. Who do you want answering the phone?” But then the McCain ad departs from the Clinton one, and displays various images from around the world with the words, “Uncertainty, dangerous aggression, rogue nations, radicalism.” The ad then shows Hillary Clinton speaking about McCain and the “lifetime of experience that he will bring to the White House,” while critiquing Obama.

The McCain campaign has also released other similar Clinton-related ads timed to coincide with the Democratic Convention. In one ad, a woman announces that she is a lifelong Democrat and a Clinton supporter, but says that she is now going to vote for McCain. In reference to McCain she says: “I respect his maverick and independent streak, and now he’s the one with the experience and judgment. A lot of Democrats will vote McCain. It’s OK, really!” The ad is aimed at disenchanted Clinton supporters, especially those who might be disappointed with Obama’s decision to choose Biden over Clinton as a running mate.

McCain is not only trying to reveal the divisions within the Democratic Party leadership, but among Democratic voters. The “3 a.m.” ad also serves to lure Clinton supporters to the McCain camp.

McCain Uses Biden’s Attacks, Too

Clinton is not the only former opponent of Obama whose words during the primaries are being mined by McCain. The Arizona senator wasted no time jumping on Obama’s pick for vice president; one McCain television ad shows Biden questioning Obama’s readiness to be president and expressing his confidence in McCain’s capabilities.

In the ad, a clip from an August 2007 debate for the Democratic primaries shows George Stephanopoulos asking Biden if Obama was prepared to be president: “You said, ‘I think he can be ready but right now, I don’t believe he is. The presidency is not something that lends itself to on-the-job training.’” Biden responds by saying, “I think that I stand by the statement.” The advertisement also portrays Biden saying “I would be honored to run with or against John McCain, because I think the country would be better off.”

Reaction: ‘Barack Obama is her choice’

On August 25, NBC’s Matt Lauer interviewed Barack Obama’s communications director, Robert Gibbs, about McCain’s ads invoking the comments from Joe Biden. Lauer asked Gibbs how the Obama campaign will reconcile the commercial involving Biden: “So, now, if Joe Biden goes on the attack against John McCain, isn’t he going to come off sounding like just another politician who will do and say anything to get elected?”

Gibbs responds by saying that McCain was a different person when Biden complimented him. “I think the John McCain that America has seen over the past few months is not the John McCain that most of America thought they saw in 2000.”

Lauer also probed Gibbs on the Hillary Clinton question: “To finally heal those wounds, if it’s possible, is Barack Obama going to have to dedicate a substantial portion of his speech on Thursday night on the floor of that convention to Hillary Clinton?”

Gibbs said, “there’s no question, you know, Hillary Clinton has looked at both John McCain and Barack Obama and she’s decided that Barack Obama is her choice to be the next president of the United States.”

Opinion & Analysis: The effectiveness of the ads

Many agree that the “3 a.m.” ad was an inevitable move by McCain that should only have a positive effect on his campaign. Analysts also concur that the McCain ads that focus on the contradictions between Obama and his relationships with Clinton and Biden will open McCain up to similar attacks. For example, in the Hot Air blog, Ed Morrissey writes that Obama can easily hone in on the McCain–Romney rivalry from the primaries if McCain chooses Romney as his vice president.

But Morrissey goes on to say that calling out Obama on Clinton will be more potent, because “Hillary didn’t attack Obama on policy, primarily because there wasn’t much difference between them in that sense. She attacked his readiness for the office and his experience.”

In the “Outside the Beltway” blog, James Joyner claims that the “3 a.m.” commercial is “easily McCain’s most effective ad yet.” According to Joyner, McCain is “playing his strength against his opponent’s weakness while at the same time exploiting bitterness that Hillary supporters feel over their candidate losing.”

Most Recent Beyond The Headlines