As much as John McCain's camp wants to mock Barack Obama for his worldwide fame, it's McCain who's been spending lots of time lately playing up his longstanding relationships with foreign leaders. And it's Obama who's been taking a more local, less global advertising approach, tailoring ads to fit issues relevant to various regions of the country.
At a rally in York, Pa., on Tuesday, McCain drew on firsthand experience in Georgia to make some points about Russia's recent invasion. He even took to calling Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili by his nickname, "Misha." But is his solidarity shoutout that "we are all Georgians" really so different from Obama's "people of Berlin, people of the world, this is our moment; this is our time"?
Yeah, Obama can captivate massive throngs in Berlin, his camp is implying, but he also knows and cares about real-life issues that affect Americans in their neighborhoods.
Any day McCain gets to flex his foreign policy muscles is a good day for him. And in a race where both sides are quick to pounce on the other for flip-flops, McCain has earned praise in the punditry world for his consistently hard line on Russia. The Arizona senator hopes to remind voters of Ronald Reagan and his defanging of the Soviet bear. But will echoes of the Cold War really resonate with most folks? For voters under 30, the U.S.S.R. is ancient history. When the Berlin Wall came down, the oldest of them were in high school and the youngest hadn't been born.
More important, while the Georgian conflict and its images are compelling, most Americans know little, if anything, about it. In his York speech, reports MSNBC/National Journal's Adam Aigner-Treworgy, McCain "plac[ed] the current conflict in a historical context, explaining the history of Georgia and recounting the invasions the country has survived." Usually, if you have to explain to voters why they should care about something, it's a sign that the issue probably won't gain that much traction. The Russian attacks also come at peak vacation time, when fewer people are reading newspapers or watching cable TV.
Obama's camp, meanwhile, has put up a collection of ads in recent days that home in on issues unique to their regions.
"Backyard" (subscription), which is running on TV in Las Vegas and Reno, Nev., hits McCain for his support of storing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain -- an unpopular position in the state. The campaign is also targeting bikers in Milwaukee, where Harley-Davidson is based, and in York, which has big production facilities; a radio ad (subscription) there accuses McCain of not caring about "American-made motorcycles," citing his opposition to requirements that the government buy American.
The goal, it seems, is to wipe clear the "celebrity" image that McCain and Republicans are trying to pin on Obama. Yeah, he can captivate massive throngs in Berlin, the campaign is implying, but he also knows and cares about the real-life issues that affect Americans in their neighborhoods.
Still, the fact that all the new Obama ads are negative, with no focus on specific solutions, undermines his "different kind of politics" mantra. It's easy to roll out the opposition research book and cobble together an effective attack ad. It's much harder to come up with ads that talk about ways to bring about solutions to these often intractable problems.
Including, for instance, the ailing economy. That's one area where capturing voters' imagination or soothing their anxiety is a task yet to be completed.