Aug. 12, 2008
By Karin Caifa
WASHINGTON -- Lack of name recognition can sink a presidential candidacy. Just ask Sam Brownback, Tom Tancredo, Mike Gravel or any of the other little-known 2008 presidential hopefuls who toiled in obscurity during the primary season. So why are the presumptive party nominees dueling over who's really a celebrity?
The McCain campaign is attempting to turn Obama's biggest strength -- the screaming crowds, the fervent supporters, and the rock star aura -- into his biggest detriment. And that's sparked an ad war highlighting "style vs. substance" and who might be too "Hollywood" for Washington.
By now, even non-politicos know about John McCain's ad that slammed rival Barack Obama as "the biggest celebrity in the world," juxtaposing the Democrat's image with those of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. And those who didn't see the original ad likely saw Hilton's "rebuttal," where she mocked McCain as "that wrinkly, white-haired guy," along with proposing a solution to the nation's energy crisis.
The Obama campaign initially dismissed the McCain ad as frivolous. "Given the magnitude of the challenges when it comes to energy and health care and jobs and our foreign policy, you'd think we'd be having a serious debate," Obama chided at a rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on July 31. "But so far all we've been hearing about is Paris Hilton and Britney Spears."
But a new offering from the Obama camp suggests that the criticism may have hit a nerve in the Democrat's circle. The campaign begins airing a new cable TV ad today that tags McCain as "Washington's biggest celebrity," and flashes images of the Republican trading laughs on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," and "The Late Show With David Letterman," as well as sitting down with the ladies of "The View."
In an e-mail yesterday aimed at spurring campaign donations, Obama campaign manager David Plouffe implied that Obama supporters should find the McCain "celebrity" attacks insulting. "They're spending millions to spread the smear that Barack is just a 'celebrity' and that our grassroots movement is just a bunch of mindless fans," Plouffe wrote.
The Republicans were unfazed. After details of the Obama ad surfaced yesterday afternoon, the McCain campaign hit back with a web ad that sarcastically urges voters to join the Obama "Fan Club."
"If you love Senator Barack Obama enough to join his fan club you'll love higher taxes, massive federal spending, government-run health care and higher gas prices," McCain campaign manager Rick Davis wrote in an email touting the ad, which makes reference to Obama's recent international trip and ridicules the Democrat's rock star reception overseas.
Will the "celebrity" label stick? The ad exchange certainly has people talking, a plus for the campaigns. But the national polls have remained largely stagnant, with Obama holding onto a slight advantage. That could be summer malaise on behalf of potential voters, since the widely-hyped Obama overseas tour did little to change numbers either. Or, it could be a sign that it's time to move on to a new debate. One that doesn't involve Paris or Britney.