Democrats took the Congress back in 2006 by portraying GOP candidates as clones of George W. Bush. It was an effective strategy that is informing our efforts in 2008. But we’re starting to see the drawbacks of that strategy play out in the race against John McCain.
Political attacks work best when the charge they make is both echoed by the subject of those attacks and resonate with voter perceptions of that candidate. Case in point: The flip-flop attack on John Kerry wouldn’t have been nearly as effective as it was if he hadn’t told voters in West Virginia that he voted for the $87 billion before he voted against it. Kerry gave the Republicans a real time example of the negative storyline they were driving against him.
Fast forward to 2008: It’s tough to make the McSame attack stick because John McCain rose to national prominence by being a thorn in George W. Bush’s side. McCain might have voted for 90 percent of the Bush agenda but the public got to know him as a painin Bush’s behind – a perception aided by the fact that Democrats rushed to exploit the McCain-Bush schism that came out of the 2000 primaries.
So does that mean the Obama campaign should ignore the fact that McCain voted 90% of the time with Bush. Absolutely not.
It means that the Obama campaign needs to focus its energies on generating some real time examples of McCain hugging Bush. (I think there are some other areas to hit as well but that’s a post for another time.)
Democrats need to test McCain’s maverick claims by creating news stories that force the Republican to choose between opposing the Bush Administration OR adopting the Bush position on an issue playing out in the headlines.
If we can get McCain to embrace a Bush position in real time, we can breathe new life into the McSame narrative and put McCain back on the defensive.
So I would kickstart the process by challenging John McCain to name three times he disagreed with the White House this summer and asking him to detail what he did to act on those disagreements. Did he hold a news conference to air his disagrements? Did he cut an ad? Did he speak out on the Senate floor?