The Filter: Oct. 6, 2008

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

(Adam Nagourney and Jeff Zeleny, New York Times)

The turmoil on Wall Street and the weakening economy are changing the contours of the presidential campaign map, giving new force to Senator Barack Obama’s ambitious strategy to make incursions into Republican territory, while leading Senator John McCain to scale back his efforts to capture Democratic states. Mr. Obama has what both sides describe as serious efforts under way in at least nine states that voted for President Bush in 2004, including some that neither side thought would be on the table this close to Election Day. In a visible sign of the breadth of Mr. Obama’s aspirations, he is using North Carolina — a state that Mr. Bush won by 13 percentage points in 2004, and where Mr. Obama is now spending heavily on advertisements — as his base to prepare this weekend for the debate on Tuesday. By contrast, Mr. McCain is vigorously competing in just four states where Democrats won in 2004: Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, followed by Wisconsin and Minnesota. His decision last week to pull out of Michigan reflected in part the challenge that the declining economy has created for Republicans, given that they have held the White House for the last eight years. 

(Liz Sidoti, Associated Press)

One month before Election Day, Barack Obama sits atop battleground polls in a shrinking playing field, the economic crisis is breaking his way and he has made progress toward winning the White House. The onus is on Republican John McCain to turn the race around under exceptionally challenging circumstances--and his options are limited. McCain's advisers say the Arizona senator will ramp up his attacks in the coming days with a tougher, more focused message describing "who Obama is," including questioning his character, "liberal" record and "too risky" proposals in advertising and appearances. Obama's advisers, in turn, say he will argue that McCain is unable to articulate an economic vision that's different from President Bush's. In a new push, the Illinois senator is calling McCain's health care plan "radical."

(Alec MacGillis and Alice Crites, Washington Post)

As the deadline for voter registration arrives today in many states, Sen. Barack Obama's campaign is poised to benefit from a wave of newcomers to the rolls in key states in numbers that far outweigh any gains made by Republicans. In the past year, the rolls have expanded by about 4 million voters in a dozen key states -- 11 Obama targets that were carried by George W. Bush in 2004 (Ohio, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, Indiana, Missouri, Colorado, Iowa, Nevada and New Mexico) plus Pennsylvania, the largest state carried by Sen. John F. Kerry that Sen. John McCain is targeting. In Florida, Democratic registration gains this year are more than double those made by Republicans; in Colorado and Nevada the ratio is 4 to 1, and in North Carolina it is 6 to 1. Even in states with nonpartisan registration, the trend is clear -- of the 310,000 new voters in Virginia, a disproportionate share live in Democratic strongholds. Republicans acknowledge the challenge but say Obama still has to prove he can get the new voters to the polls.

(Stephen F. Hayes, Weekly Standard)

"As a general matter, we need to get this race back to being about Obama," says one senior adviser to McCain. A second agrees and points to Tuesday's debate as a key opportunity. "Part of what this debate is about, and the home stretch is about, is focusing the attention on Obama." It's a strategy that has worked before... Several McCain advisers believe their campaign should focus on two very similar questions for the final push of the campaign: Who is Barack Obama, and can he lead the country in these difficult times? The advisers say the campaign will work to remind voters of Obama's "corrupt" associations with Tony Rezko and with "the terrorist William Ayers." There has been no decision made as to whether the campaign will directly raise Obama's relationship to Reverend Jeremiah Wright. "Rezko and Ayers are clearly in bounds," says a top McCain adviser. "McCain has said he doesn't want to talk about Wright. If others do, then it's a topic of conversation and we can join that conversation."

(Howard Wolfson, New Republic)

Why won't the swiftboat tactics work this year?  Its easy to lose sight of it in the day to day coverage, but the collapse of Wall Street in the last weeks was a seminal event in the history of our nation and our politics. To put the crisis in perspective, Americans have lost a combined 1 trillion dollars in net worth in just the last four weeks alone.  Just as President Bush's failures in Iraq undermined his party's historic advantage on national security issues, the financial calamity has shown the ruinous implications of the Republican mania for deregulation and slavish devotion to totally unfettered markets.  Republicans and Democrats have been arguing over the proper role of government for a century. In 1980 voters sided with Ronald Reagan and Republicans that government had become too big and intrusive.  Then the economy worked in the Republicans' favor.  Today the pendulum has swung in our direction.  Republican philosophies have been discredited by events. Voters understand this. This is a big election about big issues. McCain's smallball will not work. This race will not be decided by lipsticked pigs. And John McCain can not escape that reality. The only unknowns are the size of the margin and the breadth of the Democratic advantage in the next Congress.

(William Kristol, Weekly Standard)

The odds are against John McCain and Sarah Palin winning this election. It's not easy to make up a 6-point deficit in the last four weeks. But it can be done. Look at history. The Gore-Lieberman ticket gained about 6 points in the final two weeks of the 2000 campaign. Ford-Dole came back more than 20 points in less than two months in the fall of 1976. Both tickets were from the party holding the White House, and both were running against inexperienced, and arguably risky, opponents. What's more, this year's race has already--twice--moved by more than 6 points over a span of only a few weeks. The race went from McCain up 2 (these are the Real Clear Politics averages) on September 14 to Obama plus 6 on October 2, less than three weeks later. In the four weeks before that, the race had moved from Obama plus 5 on August 12 to McCain plus 2 on September 12. So while there's reason for McCain-Palin supporters to worry, there's no reason to despair.

(Sean Quinn, FiveThirtyEight)

Let’s be clear. We've observed no comparison between these ground campaigns.To begin with, there’s a 4-1 ratio of offices in most states. We walk into McCain offices to find them closed, empty, one person, two people, sometimes three people making calls. Many times one person is calling while the other small clutch of volunteers are chatting amongst themselves. In one state, McCain’s state field director sat in one of these offices and, sotto voce, complained to us that only one man was making calls while the others were talking to each other about how much they didn't like Obama, which was true. But the field director made no effort to change this. This was the state field director. Only for the first time the other day did we see a McCain organizer make a single phone call. So we've now seen that once. The McCain organizers seem to operate as maître Ds. Let me escort you to your phone, sir. Pick any one of this sea of empty chairs. I'll be sitting over here if you need any assistance... “Call time,” for both campaigns, is all day, but the time when folks over 65 are generally targeted begins in late afternoon and goes til 8 or 9pm. Universally, McCain’s people stop earlier. Even when we show up at 6:15pm, we’re told we just missed the big phone bank, or to come back in 30 minutes. If we show up an hour later, we “just missed it” again. The McCain offices are also calm, sedate. Little movement. No hustle. In the Obama offices, it's a whirlwind. People move. It's a dynamic bustle.

(Michael Abramowitz and Perry Bacon, Jr., Washington Post)

McCain appears to be engaged in especially serious preparations for Tuesday's debate, one of his last opportunities to change the trajectory of a race that may be slipping out of his control. He is certainly doing more formal preparation than he did before last month's debate in Mississippi. Since leaving Washington on Thursday, McCain has kept a light schedule, his only public appearances being two town-hall-style events in Colorado -- that will be the format of Tuesday's debate in Nashville. On Saturday and Sunday, he held three formal practice sessions, with former Ohio congressman Rob Portman standing in for Obama... Obama is preparing in Asheville, N.C., in a state where he is hoping to sway voters who typically vote Republican in presidential elections. He was joined at a resort hotel by several top aides, including strategists David Axelrod and Robert Gibbs, campaign manager David Plouffe, and Greg Craig, the Washington lawyer and Clinton administration official who has portrayed McCain in practice debates. In the words of one campaign aide, Obama will seek Tuesday to continue his efforts to present himself as a "very pragmatic, non-ideological and very even-keeled" politician, one who can be trusted to take over the country at a time of uncertainty abroad and at home.

(Amy Chozick, Wall Street Journal)

The Republican's performance in the second of three presidential debates -- the only one held in the format he tends to favor -- could help determine his ability to stay competitive in a race that seems to have moved against the Arizona senator over the past week. Shortly after Sen. Obama clinched the Democratic nomination in early June, Sen. McCain invited his Illinois rival to hold 10 joint town-hall meetings across the country, in which both candidates would stand together on stage and take questions from audience members. Sen. Obama declined, saying he believed the three scheduled presidential debates were sufficient... The spontaneous, unpredictable conversational style of the events and the informal interaction with voters seem to bring out the best in Sen. McCain, more than canned, oft-repeated stump speeches do. The group interaction brings out his quick wit and self-proclaimed bent for "straight talk" -- he often will engage in extended debate with a voter who disagrees with him, even saying directly that the person is wrong. 

(William Kristol, New York Times)

I pointed out that Obama surely had a closer connection to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright than to Ayers — and so, I asked, if Ayers is a legitimate issue, what about Reverend Wright? [Palin] didn’t hesitate: “To tell you the truth, Bill, I don’t know why that association isn’t discussed more, because those were appalling things that that pastor had said about our great country, and to have sat in the pews for 20 years and listened to that — with, I don’t know, a sense of condoning it, I guess, because he didn’t get up and leave — to me, that does say something about character. But, you know, I guess that would be a John McCain call on whether he wants to bring that up.” I guess so. And I guess we’ll soon know McCain’s call on whether he wants to bring Wright up — perhaps at his debate with Obama Tuesday night.

(Mike Allen, Politico)

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) on Monday is launching a multimedia campaign to draw attention to the involvement of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the “Keating Five” savings-and-loan scandal of 1989-91, which blemished McCain’s public image and set him on his course as a self-styled reformer. Pushing back against what it calls McCain's “guilt-by-association” tactics, the Obama campaign overnight began e-mailing millions of supporters a link to a website,, which will have a 13-minute documentary on the scandal beginning at noon Eastern time on Monday. The e-mails urge recipients to pass the link on to friends. The Obama campaign, including its surrogates appearing on radio and television, will argue that the deregulatory fervor that caused massive, cascading savings-and-loan collapses in the late ‘80s was pursued by McCain throughout his career, and helped cause the current credit crisis.

(Dan Morain and Bob Drogin, Los Angeles Times)

In the wild ride that is the McCain presidential campaign, Steve Schmidt has been at the wheel, steering -- some say careering -- from Paris Hilton to Sarah Palin, from abrupt "suspension" to abrupt restart. Schmidt is McCain's day-to-day operations boss.Retained in a summer shake-up intended to right McCain's faltering campaign, Schmidt, 38, quickly put his stamp on the operation, aggressively attacking Democratic nominee Barack Obama, often with biting ridicule, and vying to dominate every day's news cycle. For a time, Schmidt's tactics seemed to work. Team McCain was practicing a political jujitsu that kept the Republican close in polls when the Democratic standard-bearer, given George Bush's unpopularity, should have had a significant lead. The effort peaked with the choice of Palin as McCain's running mate. Convinced that McCain needed a dramatic gesture to make the race competitive, Schmidt pressed McCain to pluck the Alaska governor from obscurity... But a month from election day, Schmidt faces his most difficult professional challenge. McCain has dropped in polls as Washington struggled to find a solution to a reeling Wall Street. Polls show voters trust Obama more than McCain to fix the economy.

(Ralph Vartabedian and Richard A. Serrano, Los Angeles Times)

As a presidential candidate, McCain has cited his military service -- particularly his 5 1/2 years as a POW. But he has been less forthcoming about his mistakes in the cockpit. The Times interviewed men who served with McCain and located once-confidential 1960s-era accident reports and formerly classified evaluations of his squadrons during the Vietnam War. This examination of his record revealed a pilot who early in his career was cocky, occasionally cavalier and prone to testing limits. In today's military, a lapse in judgment that causes a crash can end a pilot's career. Though standards were looser and crashes more frequent in the 1960s, McCain's record stands out. "Three mishaps are unusual," said Michael L. Barr, a former Air Force pilot with 137 combat missions in Vietnam and an internationally known aviation safety expert who teaches in USC's Aviation Safety and Security Program. "After the third accident, you would say: Is there a trend here in terms of his flying skills and his judgment?"... Naval aviation experts say the three accidents before McCain's deployment to Vietnam probably triggered a review to determine whether he should be allowed to continue flying.

(Noam Scheiber, New Republic) 

These days, Palin is engaged in this same fight against elites, though on a considerably larger stage. "I'm not one of those who maybe came from a background of, you know, kids who perhaps graduate college and their parents give them a passport and give them a backpack and say go off and travel the world," she recently told Katie Couric. "No, I've worked all my life." That hardly makes her the first politician to run on class resentments--nearly every conservative from George W. Bush to Mitt Romney has sought a bond with voters by attacking the over-educated and entitled. But more often than not these conservatives are elites themselves; hence the spectacle of Yale legacies and Harvard millionaires (and most of the Fox News executive suite) railing against wine-swilling sophisticates. Palin, by contrast, may be the first conservative politician since Nixon to experience resentment so authentically. For her, it's not so much a political tool as a motivating principle. A trip through Palin's past reveals that almost every step of her career can be understood as a reaction to elitist condescension--much of it in her own mind.