Last week McCain's campaign manager, Rick Davis, took some heat for suggesting that the campaign was not about issues, it was about personalities. In the context of the campaign, Davis' statement came off as callous and cynical, and was quickly pounced on by the Dems. But, after watching things play out since then, I think it's time to acknowledge that in part, he's right. It's not that the issues are irrelevant. It's that, played correctly, broad themes and strong personalities can overpower the issues in the minds of voters.
The irony is that the Obama campaign should be the first to recognize the truth in what Davis said. Obama didn't beat Hillary in the primaries because he had a better ten point plan then her. In fact, completely to the contrary, his upset win proved the point that meta themes beat microtargeting, and that people will ignore their preferences on issues (for instance, universal health care), if they are inspired by and trust your leadership.
Unfotunately, the campaign's ads lately just scream "generic Dem politician." There's nothing about them that is unique to Barack Obama. They have done a nice job tying McCain to four more years of Bush, but McCain may have partly wriggled out of that trap with the selection of Sarah Palin.
The campaign needs to take advantage of Obama's strengths as a leader and as a change agent. Fortunately, there's an easy answer for that - just let the man speak!
It's time for Obama to pivot back to his strength and run ads that show him in his element - giving speeches to thousands of people, speeches that appeal to our patriotism, similar in tone to the 2004 convention speech. Most importantly, he needs to do in his ads what he did so effectively in speech after speech during the primary - tie his own campaign to the advances in freedom throughout American history and urge voters to move us forward as a nation. In doing, so, he will make McCain and Palin look like second tier imitators.
These ads should be positive, but they can't look like the "Hands" ad Obama ran during the Olympics. In other words, they can't be focus grouped to death. They need to feature Obama speaking most of the time, and let him drive his points home himself.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that the focus on McCain=Bush, or on the economy, was the wrong one. But in the final stretch of the campaign it's time for the campaign to go back to basics and run a strong, uplifting campaign. And if he does that, Obama will win.