The Filter: Oct. 15, 2008

A round-up of this morning's must-read stories.

(Liz Sidoti, Associated Press)

Barack Obama and John McCainwill both pursue the image of a strong leader in troublesome economic times as they meet Wednesday night for their third and final presidential debate. Their face-off comes as Obama widens his lead in typically Democratic states and campaigns with an air of optimism about his prospects, while McCain seeks a way to gain ground and finds himself defending traditionally Republican states with less than three weeks left in the race... Wednesday's debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., is slated to focus entirely on the economy and domestic policy. The candidates will be seated at a table with moderator Bob Schieffer of CBS. Both presidential contenders have used the previous debates to make and remake their main campaign points, frequently sidestepping direct questions such as how they would have to scale back their long lists of campaign promises in light of the economic crisis. Advisers for each candidate say he will use the final debate to lay out his vision for the country and promote his economic policies while drawing differences with his opponent. Character attacks — subtle or not — also could occur.

(Mike Madden, Salon)

A day before the final presidential debate of the year -- and three weeks before Election Day -- McCain's campaign still seems to be struggling to figure out how to regain momentum in a race that, for him, has gone south faster than a retiree with a ticket to Florida. (That is, if the retiree still has any savings left to head south with.) McCain himself is sticking to a kindler, gentler stump speech that only impugns Obama's policies, not his personality, and his rallies are more carefully controlled by the campaign -- at least in part because polling found voters were starting to turn away from McCain, rather than Obama, because of McCain's sharp tone. But aides haven't given up on the notion that voters would revolt against the Democrat if they only knew whom he's been hanging out with... Nearly all of McCain's TV ads are attacking Obama in similar fashion. And a day after McCain debuted his retooled stump speech, and only a few days after he rebuked his own supporters for taking anti-Obama vitriol past where McCain wanted it to be, he also promised the old McCain -- last week's McCain -- would make an appearance at Wednesday night's debate, with an attempt to highlight Ayers. 

(Paul West, Baltimore Sun)

Frustrations inside John McCain's camp boiled over on the eve of Wednesday night's presidential debate as the candidate's brother unleashed an e-mail blasting the campaign's "counter-productive" strategy. "Let John McCain be John McCain," wrote Joe McCain in a missive sent out shortly before midnight Monday. "Make ads that show John not as crank and curmudgeon but as a great leader for his time." McCain's younger brother was sharply critical of unnamed top campaign officials who "so tightly 'control the message'" that they are preventing reporters from speaking with those, like himself, who know the candidate best. His complaint echoed those of other McCain intimates who have chafed for months at orders not to speak with the news media without advance permission from the campaign. The younger McCain called this news management strategy "counter-intuitive, counter-experiential, and counter-productive" because it conflicts with his brother's reputation for openness. The clampdown "has gradually bled away all the good will that this great man had from the press," he wrote. 

(Jackie Calmes, New York Times)

Both presidential candidates have now outlined their plans for addressing the economic crisis, leaving voters with a clear choice when it comes to one of the biggest challenges the next president will face. Mr. McCain’s new plans include tax cuts on capital gains and on withdrawals from retirement accounts by people 59 and older, bigger write-offs for stock losses and a tax waiver for unemployment benefits.Those proposals, which would be effective for two years, complement an overall economic program that hews to the Republican playbook: tax cuts geared especially to individuals and businesses at the top of the income scale, in the belief that they will stimulate the economy and create jobs that benefit everyone... The $60 billion stimulus package that Senator Barack Obama announced Monday, combined with his longstanding economic agenda, reflect Democratic emphasis on tax cuts intended for middle-class and low-wage workers and for the smallest businesses, as well as spending increases for public works to create jobs... Even with the new proposals, which come on top of the hundreds of billions of dollars the government has already committed to bail out financial institutions and other faltering corporations, both candidates continue to promise that as president they would reduce the ballooning annual budget deficits, without forfeiting any of the big-ticket promises they made pre-crisis.

(Jonathan Weisman, Wall Street Journal)

Neither candidate, nor aides, elaborated on how they would implement the new Treasury program, or how they might differ from each other. But it's clear that the government's partial takeover of the nation's banking industry -- along with other recent interventions like federal ownership of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and federal conservatorship of the insurance behemoth American International Group Inc. -- will give the Nov. 4 winner tremendous discretion over the workings of the economy. "We have broadened the interpretation of the powers available to the president, and there will be a host of specific issues," Obama adviser Robert Rubin, a former Treasury secretary, said in an interview. Issues such as managing purchased assets from financial institutions, "the question of what Fannie and Freddie should become, what the broader U.S. mortgage market structure should be, and what the financial markets should look like." Whoever wins the White House "will have to deal with those issues immediately," Mr. Rubin said, adding that ordering the rest of his agenda will be a "signal decision" of his presidency. The recent market turmoil has altered the campaign -- and the next presidency -- in other ways as well.

(Jeanne Cummings, Politico)

In the first three weeks of September, Barack Obama ran 1,342 television commercials in the Washington media market that reaches heavily populated and contested Northern Virginia. According to The Nielsen Company, in the same period and market, John McCain aired just eight commercials on broadcast stations. Similar disparities are playing out across the country as the Illinois Democrat flexes his financial muscle to outspend McCain and the Republican National Committee on television advertisements, in some cases by ratios of as much as 8-to-1. As of close of business last week, Obama had spent approximately $195 million on primary and general election ads compared with $99 million by the Arizona Republican and the Republican National Committee, according to the Competitive Media Analysis Group. And the gap is widening in the final weeks... The spending figures are significant because they demonstrate how Obama’s fundraising advantage has helped him drown out his opponent and maintain a longer — and more positive — presence in the living rooms of voters in critical swing states.

(Adam Nagourney, New York Times)

With less than three weeks until Election Day, a big question is looming over the campaign for the White House, and it has nothing to do with the economic crisis or the caustic exchanges between Senators Barack Obama and John McCain over character and credentials. It is race. Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain almost never talk directly about it. In some cases, like the condemnation of the Republican ticket issued last weekend by Representative John Lewis, the Georgia Democrat who is a civil rights leader, the topic has come up openly... But more often, it is found only in sentiments that are whispered, internalized or masked by discussions of culture or religion, and therefore hard to capture fully in polling or even to hear clearly in everyday conversation. Political strategists once assumed that polls might well overstate support for black candidates, since white voters might be reluctant to admit racially tinged sentiments to a pollster. Newer research has cast doubt on that assumption. Either way, the situation is confounding aides on both sides, who like everyone else are waiting to see what role race will play in the privacy of the voting booth.

(Beth Reinhard, Miami Herald) 

As the presidential campaign in Florida enters the homestretch, Democrat Barack Obama is cranking up a sophisticated and far-reaching voter turnout operation, while Republican John McCain scrambles to regain his footing in a state long considered a safe bet. On Tuesday, McCain announced that he will campaign Friday in Miami and Melbourne... Tension has been rising between some top Florida Republicans and the McCain camp as polls show him slipping in a state vital to his White House bid... The nation's largest battleground state will fall to the candidate who can churn out the most votes. Mimicking the strategy perfected by President Bush's reelection campaign, the Obama camp is trying to mobilize party faithful while paring votes from communities and demographic groups that lean toward the opposition. One potential advantage for the Republican Party is its well-established practice of racking up absentee ballots. The evening before McCain confirmed his Florida trip, about a dozen campaign volunteers in a Pompano Beach office building dialed voters who had requested ballots by mail.

(Anita Kumar and Tim Craig, Washington Post)

Three weeks before the Nov. 4 election, some voters in the increasingly important battleground state of Virginia are still agonizing over whether to cast their ballot for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) or Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.). Many of those undecided Virginians are planning to watch the final presidential debate Wednesday night in search of answers. They are looking at each candidate's stance on key issues, the way he behaves and the way one treats the other... This year, members of both parties think that Virginia could be critical to either candidate's capturing the 270 electoral votes needed to secure the White House. Virginians do not register by party, and many have been known to split their tickets. No Democratic presidential candidate has carried Virginia since 1964, but recent polls show Obama and McCain locked in an extremely competitive race. A Washington Post-ABC News poll late last month indicated that Virginia's likely voters are divided 49 percent for Obama and 46 percent for McCain. The margin of error was four percentage points.