(LAS VEGAS) - The effects of this week's Wall Street meltdown on the election remain to be seen, but one thing is clear: the crisis has transformed Barack Obama as a candidate.
As lost, unfocused and defensive as he has seemed in the weeks since the Democratic National Convention, Obama is now a man with a mission, locked in on his adversaries whose verbal bungling this week rivaled his malaprops last week.
Lipstick on a pig? How about the "fundamentals of the economy are strong?"
One was a silly thing to say, the other raised serious doubts about the Republican ticket. No matter that John McCain corrected and re-corrected what he meant to say, the language in the midst of the crash of august American houses of finance is indelible. That it came from a candidate who's acknowledged economics is not his strong suit, just made it worse. (I'm not even counting Sarah Palin's first town hall meeting when an audience member wanted to know about her foreign policy credentials. She sniffed that the question was like playing "stump the candidate" and then McCain jumped in to answer for her.)
Obama and his lieutenants have not been inattentive to the upside of this political gift, however unintended it was.
Before 12,000 at a Las Vegas baseball stadium, Obama lashed McCain with withering sarcasm.
"We can't steer ourselves out of this crisis using the same old map. We can't steer ourselves out of the crisis if the new driver is getting directions from the old driver," he said to thunderous applause.
There was more.
"Sen. McCain's big solution to the crisis we're facing is -- PUT ON YOUR SEATBELTS -- a commission! A commission? Well that's Washington-speak for we'll get back to you later."
McCain used to run on his experience - the 26 years he's spent in Congress. Obama, who's been in the Senate for three years, found fault with that as well.
"Sen. McCain ... bragged about how as chairman of the Commerce Committee in the Senate he had ovesight of every part of the economy. Well, all I can say to Sen. McCain is: 'nice job.'"
And finally, Obama mocked McCain's attempt to usurp the mantle of change.
"I've got a track record. I'm not a Johnny Come Lately! I didn't just show up yesterday and start calling for change. I've been talking about change for two years now. I just didn't read a poll and decide, 'Oh this is a change election!'"
"John McCain actually said that if he's president he'll take, and I quote, 'the old boys network in Washington.' I'm not making this up. This is somebody been in Congress for 26 years, who put seven of the most powerful Washington lobbyists in charge of his campaign and now he tells us that he's the one who's gonna take on the old boys network. The old boys network. In the McCain campaign that's called a staff meeting. C'mon!"
Such lines were missing from his speeches until this week. Now he's using a teleprompter to remind him of the zingers. And his aides tell me they have finally prevailed on him to speak in a more soundbite friendly way - read: quickly - for television. Whatever the case, he seems to feel he's had a very good week - so far.