Surprise: The Campaign's About to Get Really Ugly

Expect to Hear a Lot More About Ayers and Keating

By Published on .

After a few shots across the bow from both parties this weekend, everyone's catching on to the fact that this October -- like every other October in every other presidential election -- is going to get nasty. There are any number of stories to choose from, but I think this one from the Associated Press captures the tone quite nicely: "Barack Obama's allies warn that John McCain's attacks on the Democrat's character will lead to the political equivalent of mutual assured destruction: fire your big weapon at your own peril."

What prompted this was Sarah Palin mentioning that Barack Obama was palling around with "domestic terrorist" William Ayers. Actually, I guess I should put the word palling in quotes and not domestic terrorist. Ayers was a domestic terrorist. In fact, this genius was the subject of a New York Times article in which he said ''I don't regret setting bombs,'' Bill Ayers said. ''I feel we didn't do enough.'' That article had the impossibly bad (or good) karmic timing of coming out on Sept. 11, 2001. Obama and team are taking issue with the phrase "palling around" because, well, Obama wasn't best buds with Ayers--and certainly not when Ayers was running around planting bombs. Then again, their relationship may have been closer than Obama originally stated, and that's led to all sorts of foaming at the mouth by McCain supporters to push this story line.

Meanwhile, Obama supporters have been wondering just when the heck their candidate was going to start in on the Keating Five scandal that McCain's name will be forever tarnished with. I, myself, was wondering that. Mr. Anti-Establishment, the man who "suspended" his campaign and rushed back to D.C. to help with the bailout bill, was involved with horribly sleazy banking practices back in the 80s. Granted -- much like the Obama/Ayers story -- it doesn't deliver a solid knockout blow. McCain was cleared of having acted improperly. Still, it's plenty good fodder for sound bites and 30-second spots.

There's also been talk of broadly tarring the Democrats with their resistance to regulating Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac -- indeed the NRCC is already flogging that horse -- but McCain's camp might be hesitant to go that route as it could prompt the race card. The NRCC video makes it seem that, other than Barney Frank, most of the congress people blocking the regulation were African American.

What puts McCain at a disadvantage in a brass-knuckle brawl at this point is that a) even if both candidates go ugly, the narrative in these cases usually portrays the candidate trailing in the polls as desperate (usually true ... and in this case, McCain's at a distinct money disadvantage) and b) Obama has done a good job of framing the battle ground. Though his campaign has run almost as many negative ads as McCain's, Obama's camp claims their attacks are about the issues and McCain's are simply a distraction. Republicans might not think that's fair, but them's the breaks folks.
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