Is Going Negative Ever Going To Backfire On McCain?

In the primary Hillary Clinton paid a price for going negative. Sure she won some big primaries but her negatives actually rose and conventional wisdom was that her legacy was damaged, which in retrospect seems fairly overblown. Considering John McCain's string of attack ads recently, Clinton appears down right restrained by comparison, but you remember the cries from independents -- oh, I can never vote for Hillary Clinton, her tactics are despicable, if she's the nominee I'm voting for McCain blah blah blah. Well, where is the outrage now that McCain has gone negative? And this is someone who actually claimed he would run a positive campaign, something Clinton never promised. If people are holding him to the same standard they held Clinton to, I'm not hearing it.

Now, it's true, the media has called out McCain for his low road tactics and even many on the right have expressed their grave disappointment (although I'm not sure what world they're living in if they expected anything different) but it would appear that so far McCain is not paying a price for going negative, although it's no secret that he is.

Yesterday's CNN poll found that nearly twice as many voters feel that John McCain is attacking Barack Obama unfairly (40%) than think the same about Barack (22%.) In addition, a new study from the Advertising Project at the University of Wisconsin found that a third of McCain's ads have been attacks against Obama, while a scant 10% of Obama's ads have even mentioned McCain.

As Obama said yesterday:

"John McCain right now, he's spending an awful lot of time talking about me," Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., said today in Rolla, Mo. "You notice that? I haven't seen an ad yet where he talks about what he's gonna do. And the reason is because those folks know they don't have any good answers, they know they've had their turn over the last eight years and made a mess of things. They know that you're not real happy with them."

But do people care? CNN found John McCain's favorable/unfavorable at a solid 62/33, essentially tied with Obama's 63/33. So why isn't McCain taking a hit for going negative?

I suspect that it has to do with the fact that McCain's image as a high road independent sort of politician (gag) still persists in people's minds. Clinton on the other hand was already perceived as a say and do anything to win type, so her going negative fit into people's pre-conceived notions. For McCain, though, there still needs to be some severe puncturing of that ever persistent McCain mystique, which is exactly why Obama's response ad focused on the message that McCain was "practicing the politics of the past" and it's why the DNC's ad out today calls McCain out for having broken his promise to run a "respectful campaign."

Watch it:

Also today, the Obama campaign has launched a new website, The Low Road Express, which plays off this New York Times editorial from yesterday, which captured the contrast between the 2008 McCain and both the McCain of 2000 and the McCain that McCain himself promised to be perfectly:

Well, that certainly didn’t take long. On July 3, news reports said Senator John McCain, worried that he might lose the election before it truly started, opened his doors to disciples of Karl Rove from the 2004 campaign and the Bush White House. Less than a month later, the results are on full display. The candidate who started out talking about high-minded, civil debate has wholeheartedly adopted Mr. Rove’s low-minded and uncivil playbook.

In recent weeks, Mr. McCain has been waving the flag of fear (Senator Barack Obama wants to “lose” in Iraq), and issuing attacks that are sophomoric (suggesting that Mr. Obama is a socialist) and false (the presumptive Democratic nominee turned his back on wounded soldiers).

What Barack is doing here, just as he did in the primary -- although this time with the coordinated effort of the DNC -- is to a. proclaim himself as the agent of change practicing a new kind of politics, b. brand his opponent as "same old same old" and then c. just wait for his opponent to prove him right. It's fairly stunning that McCain would fall into the same trap, but as we've seen, he really has no choice but to go negative. As Susan Eisenhower, self-proclaimed lifelong Republican, said on an Obama conference call earlier today launching The Low Road Express:

John McCain is proving that the Republican Party has no new ideas.

So will this tactic backfire on McCain ultimately? I suspect it will, for the irony is the more McCain seeks to define Obama, the more he is actually un-defining himself and if he loses that...well, what else does he have?

Tags: 2008 Presidential election, Barack Obama, John McCain (all tags)



Re: Is Going Negative Ever Going To Backfire

And evidently the Hilton family isn't happy either!

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it seems that the new McCain ad criticizing Obama for being a celebrity has ruffled some unintended feathers. . . I hear whispers from the inner campaign staff that the phone was burning off the hook today with calls from Paris Hilton's grandfather, William Barron Hilton (co-chair of the Hilton Hotel empire), furious that the McCain ad drew an unflattering comparison between Obama and his own granddaughter.

This report comes from (the self-described) "an advisor and liaison to the Jewish community for the John McCain presidential campaign."

by politicsmatters 2008-07-31 01:24PM | 0 recs
William Barron Hilton

Although his hotels are famous all over the world, William Barron Hilton is not a name you hear very often. Very wealthy people whose names are not often repeated are the one you never want to cross. If it's true, they better be in damage control mode.

by RandyMI 2008-07-31 02:40PM | 0 recs
Re: Is Going Negative Ever Going To Backfire

I think this will only backfire on John McCain if these actions (and not McCain's criticism) are a major theme of campaign stories. That would undermine his brand, his image.

Andrea Mitchell seems to be genuinely bugged by what the McCain campaign has been doing - ives/2008/07/ p

But is this showing up in other media coverage?

by politicsmatters 2008-07-31 01:26PM | 0 recs
Re: Is Going Negative Ever Going To Backfire

Yeah, taking Andrea Mitchell/NYT/Olberman's advice will really help McCain win. If NYT is whining about how negative he is, I bet McCain's poll numbers must be rising.

by leaf 2008-07-31 02:35PM | 0 recs
How about that bastion of liberalism the...

...Wall Street Journal then? 2594698731.html?mod=todays_columnists

by conspiracy 2008-07-31 02:41PM | 0 recs
Re: Is Going Negative

There is a cost to going negative, but McCain must feel he has no choice.  The Iraq trip gambit blew up in his face.  

by TomP 2008-07-31 01:32PM | 0 recs
Re: Is Going Negative Ever Going To Backfire
Obama needs to be more forceful and go on the offense with McCain- it seems as if we're back to 2004, with Kerry playing defense (and he was terrible at it, frankly) against the RW 527s.
Did anyone really expect the Republicans to run a positive campaign?
I hear small peeps from the press, but today I heard that one of the Swiftboaters is releasing a new book, called something like "What You Don't Know About Barack Obama" that will be praised as the greatest book since the bible on the typical right wing shows (heard about it on Hannity's radio show).
Someone on the campaign staff needs to take the bull by the horns here and kick some right wing ass.
by skohayes 2008-07-31 01:33PM | 0 recs
Re: Is Going Negative Ever Going To Backfire

But the difference is that in 2004, the 527's did it.  This time it's McCain himself.  You can just lay it as his feet.

by Jess81 2008-07-31 01:54PM | 0 recs
Re: Is Going Negative Ever Going To Backfire

No, no more than Obama's negative attacks during the primary backfired on him. Doesn't fit the narrative. And remember that Obama wasn't able to really drive Clinton's negatives up until he began accusing her of using his race against him. McCain is already working to inoculate himself against those charges by going on offence at Obama's hint of race in his dollar bills comment.

by souvarine 2008-07-31 01:44PM | 0 recs
Re: Is Going Negative Ever Going To Backfire

so...whose side are you on in all this?  

by Xris 2008-07-31 02:21PM | 0 recs
Re: Is Going Negative Ever Going To Backfire

I would much prefer President Obama. But it is interesting to see Obama use the skills he showed in the primary in the general. It is also interesting to see two media darlings duke it out. It appears to me that Obama is winning the media battle, but the war for votes is roughly a draw.

by souvarine 2008-07-31 02:55PM | 0 recs
Re: Is Going Negative Ever Going To Backfire

What negative attacks?  Please specify?

by LordMike 2008-07-31 02:33PM | 0 recs
Re: Is Going Negative Ever Going To Backfire

God knows why I'm going to open this old can of worms but Hillary did you race against Obama and McCain will too. After all, they are using the Clinton playbook to a tee.

by batgirl71 2008-07-31 02:34PM | 0 recs
Re: Is Going Negative Ever Going To Backfire

It only matters in democratic primary. In GE, AAs go for democratic candidate by 9:1 anyway,and they are only 10% of the total eletoral, how much higher can Obama drive this percentage if 100% of AAs vote for him.

When he constantsly cries 'racism', it will only further rally conservative base, and turn off white independent votes. Well, he used this tactics to win primary, he will have to live with this consequence in general.

by leaf 2008-07-31 02:39PM | 0 recs
Hey leaf!

Why don't you make like a tree and get out of here!

- Biff

by spacemanspiff 2008-07-31 02:43PM | 0 recs
Yes, because only blacks are offended by racism

Not. The only one I see bringing race into it is the McCain camp. They are projecting their own guilt. Obama was making a general point. To say otherwise is some stretch.

by conspiracy 2008-07-31 02:47PM | 0 recs
And it was McCain that started with the crap...

...about bills and Mount Rushmore: MI

Talk about faux outrage!

by conspiracy 2008-08-01 05:35AM | 0 recs
Re: Is Going Negative Ever Going To Backfire

I'm gonna be the one person to agree with you, it seems. You have to be VERY, VERY careful about the racism charge, because their plan includes denial and turning the charges around. LET THEM MAKE RACIST ARGUMENTS!!!! It just throws them into a hole they can't get out of if Obama ignores it. And if they are legitimately awful, then Obama won't even HAVE to argue, because he'll get all sorts of people that will fight on his behalf.

by vcalzone 2008-07-31 03:25PM | 0 recs
The difference between the primaries and general

election is that, when Hillary started to go seriously negative in the primary campaign, it was already effectively too late. The nature of the Democratic delegate-selection process and the fact that she had skipped so many caucus states meant that she would have had to blow Obama out of the water in state after state just to pull even. In the general election, however, all McCain would have to do is gain enough bare majorities in enough states and he could win. Fortunately the electoral map is not looking particularly favorable to McCain, but that is mainly due to circumstances beyond anyone's control. However, I would not bank on voters being turned off by negative advertising...

by Alice in Florida 2008-07-31 01:44PM | 0 recs

If the narrative they stick him with is that he is a "celebrity" and overconfident, that's not necessarily a negative trait. When all is said and done, do Americans want a leader with a backbone or an opportunist, and an old one at that?

by vcalzone 2008-07-31 01:53PM | 0 recs
The "celebrity" bit is just a veneer

They did not pick Brittney Spears and Paris Hilton to compare with Obama because of their money or celebrity status. They are feminizing Obama, like they did with Kerry, and Gore, and Edwards. If it were Hillary, they would pick comparisons that make her seem too "manish". Brain-dead gender trashing homophobia is a standard GOP tactic.

by itsthemedia 2008-07-31 10:55PM | 0 recs
Re: The "celebrity" bit is just a veneer

Yeah, and that's going to make a whole lot of sense when Obama, having gone to the gym for weeks on end, shows up next to McCain, who looks even older and even weaker. Let them push celebrity, let them push prissy. It's stupid and nobody is buying it except the most moronic of individuals.

by vcalzone 2008-08-02 12:07AM | 0 recs
Re: The "celebrity" bit is just a veneer

I have known gay guys who are quite buff and fit. It has nothing to do with what kind of shape Obama is in, or even anything to do with his actual sex life - it is an image they try to pin on all Democrats.

If you think nobody will buy it, you have not been paying attention to electoral politics, or your estimate of the number of morons who vote is way off. In 2004, we had a bona fide war hero with a chestful of medals to prove it. That did not stop the Republicans and their media allies from making Kerry over into a metrosexual, wind surfing, guitar show tune playing, wife whipped, liberal elitist snob in the eyes of millions.

You may wish the election was all about issues and leadership and temperament. I know I do. But the sad fact is that it is all about image and narrative. Until we change the culture and the media, we are stuck with it, so we had better pay attention to it.

by itsthemedia 2008-08-02 04:59PM | 0 recs
Re: The "celebrity" bit is just a veneer

BUT... We also saw ridiculous crap like Kerry hunting in camo. Meanwhile, Bush was clearing brush, going on long bike rides, staying in shape. What was Kerrys sport? WINDSURFING.

Obama, despite his occasional forays into the fineries, is a pretty typical guy. He passes the "want to have a beer with" argument, something that could not be said for any losing Democrat in the last 30 years.

by vcalzone 2008-08-02 05:49PM | 0 recs
Re: The "celebrity" bit is just a veneer

This diary is aging, so I doubt there are many people reading this besides you and me, but your response just proves my point more. Wikipedia:

A windsurfer holds the world speed record for sailing craft (see below); and, windsurfers can perform jumps, inverted loops, spinning maneuvers, and other "freestyle" moves that cannot be matched by any sailboat. Windsurfers were the first to ride the world's largest waves, such as Jaws on the island of Maui, and, with very few exceptions, it was not until the advent of tow-in surfing that waves of that size became accessible to surfers.
Windsurfing is one of the most athleticly demanding sports there are. Yet in 2004, the right and their media allies were able to turn it into the gayest of elitist pastimes.

I don't care if Obama is gay, straight, bisexual, transgendered, or any other option I left out, and I am guessing neither do you. The point is that the Republicans and the media will try to make him seem (to use your word) prissy, and they have in fact already been doing so for over a year. Maureen Dowd called him a "starlet" back in spring of '07 if I recall correctly. You may stick your head in the sand and keep repeating that it will not work if you want to. But it does not matter one bit how masculine he is - they are going to try to feminize him, and for some fraction of the electorate, they will succeed.

by itsthemedia 2008-08-03 01:05PM | 0 recs
Re: The "celebrity" bit is just a veneer

But windsurfing is not something most people can relate to at all. If he were a rugby or soccer player, people wouldn't relate to that as well either. People can respect a decent three-point shot, because it's not much different from what you'd play in your backyard. I'd even go so far as to say that he'd have more problems if he was a more aggressive player.

by vcalzone 2008-08-03 01:22PM | 0 recs
Re: The difference between the

Remember Clinton actually got more votes. Obama or surrogates need to start a McCain fact sheet campaign, all the personal dirt, all the flip flops, all the senior moments, the FULL DUMP. How McCain is getting away with this bs is beyond me but he is. I think Obama's personal stance is the right one but he needs a surrogate with deep pockets.

by ottovbvs 2008-07-31 01:56PM | 0 recs
Re: The difference between the

It must be done carefully, though. McCain just went through one of the nastiest negative campaigns we've seen this cycle. Obama starts chiding him on it, and suddenly he's the bad guy. He can't just fight back, he has to pick his spot and draw blood.

by vcalzone 2008-07-31 02:09PM | 0 recs
Re: The difference between the

"Remember Clinton actually got more votes."


by mikeinsf 2008-07-31 02:22PM | 0 recs
Re: The difference between the

Well, she did, but It's okay that you don't remember. They keep records on these kinds of things. When all states and territories vote totals are included, Hillary had over 170,000 more votes in the Democratic primary.

by joc 2008-08-01 08:00AM | 0 recs
Re: The difference between the

I know, I know.  I've read all those fun diaries before Hillary conceded. I know the drill: don't include caucuses, but include the primary where he wasn't even on the ballot, blah, blah.  It was garbage then.  It's garbage now.

by mikeinsf 2008-08-01 04:21PM | 0 recs
Re: The difference between the

Apparently, Mike, you don't know. Go to the link and you will see as I said, that all states and territories were included in the vote count.

Democracy doesn't always give you clean results, but it does give you data. Ignoring the data is what Republicans do. You should be better than them. Can you be?

by joc 2008-08-02 07:57PM | 0 recs

truly fascinating.

Was I supposed to read the first line that said Obama won, or the second line that said Obama won.

Or was I supposed to scroll all the way down to Michigan and learn that not a single soul in that state wanted him to be President.  

Or was I supposed to note that Hillary got 55.2% of the vote in Michigan, despite him not being on the ballot.  That, in other words, she hardly beat "none of the above".

How tired.

by mikeinsf 2008-08-03 11:52PM | 0 recs
Re: Wow

That's a good point. Perhaps I should have just let your false statement of the facts go unchallenged, and let you feel better about yourself. Lord knows there have been a lot of things said in the primary that simply weren't true. But honestly, is because you simply find the truth 'tiring' enough of a reason to ignore it? That's what Republicans do. I want the Democratic Party to be better than them in that respect (as well as all the issues). I'm sorry that you don't think truth is an important enough principle to always stick with it.

by joc 2008-08-05 04:01PM | 0 recs
Re: Wow

Joc, your own link doesn't bear you out.  You are ignoring the facts.  Your own link shows Obama winning.   Geeze.

by mikeinsf 2008-08-06 09:54AM | 0 recs
Re: Wow

When ottovbvs wrote that Clinton actually got more votes, you wrote "Nope." The link clearly shows that when all states and territories are included Clinton did indeed have more votes.

Popular Vote Count
State Date Obama Clinton Spread
Popular Vote (w/MI) 17,535,458 47.4% 17,822,145 48.1% Clinton +286,687    +0.8%
Estimate w/IA, NV, ME, WA* 17,869,542 47.4% 18,046,007    47.9% Clinton +176,465 +0.5%

mikeinsf, you really should stop. You're embarrassing yourself. The only good side to this is that were probably the only two people still ever looking at this thread.

by joc 2008-08-06 04:16PM | 0 recs
Re: Wow

Sorry, man.  I thought one should read the top two lines.  But I guess it's the nature of cherry-picking to find the line that suits your argument.

State    Date        Obama    Clinton                Spread

Popular Vote Total            17,535,458    48.1%    17,493,836    48.0%                Obama +41,622    +0.1%

Estimate w/IA, NV, ME, WA*             17,869,542    48.2%    17,717,698    47.8%                Obama +151,844    +0.4%

But, yes, if you want to include the Soviet-style ballot in Michigan and pretend that not a single voter in that state would have voted for Obama, then, yes, within your specific parameters, you are right.

Hey, if you liked the Michigan ballot, check out this: 331951.stm

by mikeinsf 2008-08-06 04:46PM | 0 recs
Re: Wow

The statement was that more voters voted for Hillary. They did. It is cherry picking to overlook some of the voters because their votes falsify your claim. The fact is that you want to ignore Michigan, simply because Obama took his own name off the ballot (that doesn't seem Soviet at all, but I've gotten used to you ignoring the truth in order to spew propaganda). Obama made a choice. That choice resulted in his getting less votes than Hillary. Live with it.

by joc 2008-08-14 10:30AM | 0 recs
Re: Wow

OK.  You're right.  She won a solid 55% against, erm, no one...

No one in Michigan would have ever voted for Obama.  Victory is yours!  Take it to Denver!

by mikeinsf 2008-08-18 11:11AM | 0 recs

I think so, eventually.  The reason GOPers are worried about it is that he's doing it so early, and he's doing it himself.  Usually you get surrogates to do this stuff for you, but McCain could only make news by doing it himself.

by Jess81 2008-07-31 01:54PM | 0 recs
Re: Is Going Negative Ever Going To Backfire On Mc

I don't share your optimism Todd. With Hillary the Clinton rules were in operation. But McCain is McCain. With him the Bush press rules are on. No matter what he does, he is an honorable man.

by ajain 2008-07-31 01:54PM | 0 recs
Re: Is Going Negative Ever Going To Backfire On Mc

Actually, there seems to be some tarnish on the McCain statue lately.

by politicsmatters 2008-07-31 03:09PM | 0 recs

Oh, and it's not just the negativity, it's the triviality of the whole thing.  I mean it leaves open avenues other than OUTRAGE - you can mock John McCain for the whole thing: "We haven't heard any suggestions from John McCain - he must be too busy running ads about Paris Hilton."

by Jess81 2008-07-31 02:03PM | 0 recs
That is just the thing

I try to be as objective as possible on these things and citing Britney and Paris just strikes me as beyond ridiculous. He actually had some good ads before this last batch.

by conspiracy 2008-07-31 02:19PM | 0 recs
It's early

Give it a few weeks to filter -- McCain's been on the scurrilous attack route for only a week.

We don't have the data to judge whether he's getting hurt on it or not.

I think we need to recalibrate our expectations on questions like this -- "public opinion" doesn't form, respond, and congeal the same way opinion does on the net.

Give it a few weeks.  

The worst thing Obama - or any would-be proxies/surrogates - can do is stop pointing out McCain's negative campaign and attacks.  It's a winner - it just takes time to filter through.

by zonk 2008-07-31 02:54PM | 0 recs
Re: Is Going Negative Ever...

I'm not sure that DNC rebuttal ad will really work. Here's why: Most conservatives and even many moderates believe the mainstream media has a liberal bias. We can argue whether that's true another day, but its what they believe. So the NYT thinks McCain is taking the low road? So what, they'll say. It IS the NYT after all. USAtoday and the Post will only have slightly more traction. Hagel might have some traction, but unfortunately the ad never says who he is. I know who he is, but they should have had Chuck Hagel with a big fat R next to his name. For many, their response will be, 'The liberal media says McCains ads are unfair. What else is new..."

by bigdaddy 2008-07-31 02:59PM | 0 recs
Re: Is Going Negative Ever...

It'd be nice to have an ad with Chuck Hagel, Joe Biden and John Weaver together and having an open "intervention" for Mccain. We need cleverness more than anything else. That's what the GOP has taht we don't. Cute ideas.

by vcalzone 2008-07-31 03:27PM | 0 recs
Re: Is Going Negative Ever Going To Backfire On Mc

No.  Negative campaigning works.

I certainly hope that some of the recent polls are giving Obama a wake up call, that he needs to go on the attack.

The McCain people know that if the election is all about Obama, they can win.  If it's about McCain, they can't... they need to make the election about McCain, pronto!!!!

by LordMike 2008-07-31 03:01PM | 0 recs
Obama comments on the Celebrity ad while in Iowa

He's edging towards a good populist tone that will serve him well in the coming weeks:

by barath 2008-07-31 03:20PM | 0 recs
Anecdotally, McCain is hurting himself

I spoke with a longtime friend who votes Republican but considers himself a moderate. He loved McCain in 2000 and still voted for Bush twice. He says that McCain is completely ruining the brand that attracted him to McCain back in 2000. And it's killing him among Independents.

I suspect that once the new "McCain goes to the gutter" really settles in, his numbers will drop among Independents.

by elrod 2008-07-31 04:07PM | 0 recs
Re: Is Going Negative Ever Going To Backfire On Mc

I suspect that it has to do with the fact that McCain's image as a high road independent sort of politician (gag) still persists in people's minds.

No, it has to do with McCain standing for an older America that a lot of people are not willing to vote against.

Clinton on the other hand was already perceived as a say and do anything to win type, so her going negative fit into people's pre-conceived notions.

That's revisionist crap, Todd.  Polling of her vs any Republican always showed the 52/47 national partisan split.  The 47% always correctly saw her as greater change than Obama and the end of this Reagan to Bush/Cheney style and politics.

Democrats split 40/40 on Clinton, with the remaining 20% leaning Clinton during 2007.  I'm guessing that 20% was mostly the Edwards vote.  A lot of those people balked against Clinton on a bogus claim of her being "too divisive" (code: not moderate in the way they wanted) or on a sense that the Party and her were mismatched.  Obama sold himself as the ticket for black middle class folks and moderate partisan whites and Red State insiders to get their share of say and careers in the Party.  Clinton wasn't that and had a few too many old hands on board.

There needed to be a cover argument for rejecting her vehemently enough, and that was claims of racism and various other confabulated resentments and assertions.

Once there was that environment of no real decency, that's when the primary degenerated.

by killjoy 2008-07-31 08:20PM | 0 recs
Re: Is Going Negative Ever Going To Backfire

If this is as negative as he gets, no way will he get much backlash from the press or the public. McCain has so far just been touching all the standard Republican attacks. He subtly impugns his opponent's patriotism by repeatedly denying that his opponent's patriotism should be an issue. He not-so-subtly implies that his opponent is sexually ambivalent. He tries to make his opponent seem elitist, odd, out of touch. This is standard GOP fare.

If they get desparate and try to hit Obama hard on Wright or some similar issue that came up in the primary, it may start to backfire. On the other hand, if they have some new dirt, and they can get it out there without seeming to hawk it themselves, we could have trouble unless Obama's campaign deals with it forcefully.

by itsthemedia 2008-07-31 11:52PM | 0 recs


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