Is the Election About the Issues or the Candidates?

(CBS)
From CBS News' Dean Reynolds:

(NEW PHILADELPHIA, OHIO) - Barack Obama says this election is not about him. It's about the electorate and the issues that voters face every day.

But the Republicans have clearly decided to make the election about him, his inexperience, his wife, his preacher, his fame. Whatever, the election is all about Obama. If anyone needed further confirmation, John McCain's campaign manager, Rick Davis, has provided it. Speaking to the Washington Post editorial board, Davis said this:

"This election is not about issues... This election is about a composite view of what people take away from these candidates."

The Republicans would make that "composite view" of Obama include Rev. Jeremiah Wright, his wife Michelle's fist bump, Obama's middle name (Hussein). And Republican-leaning blogs are adding a dollop of Obama's alleged Islamic roots, though he is a practicing Christian.

His fame, or as the Republicans would have it, his celebrity, is also grist in this election. And Obama today remarked that ratings for his acceptance speech last Thursday beat those for the finals of "American Idol." The Republicans may mark that one.

Arrayed against Obama's "composite view" would be McCain's biography as a former fighter pilot, prisoner of war who endured unimaginable torture at the hands of his captors, senator and maverick.

By Davis' reckoning, the more voters get to know McCain and Obama, the better the Republican's chances will be. But will they get a better feel for what he intends to do in the White House?

Both Obama and his running mate Joe Biden are all about issues. With about 80 percent of the country believing the nation is on the wrong track, it's a political no-brainer.

Obama, in comments to an audience in New Philadelphia, Ohio today said Rick Davis is wrong. The election is about issues.

He noted that the Republicans spent almost no time talking about the economy last night at their convention in St. Paul, Minn., hardly a word about jobs, pensions, Social Security or college tuition.

"I don't blame them," Obama said with tongue in cheek. "If you don't have any issues to run on, then you want the campaign to be about personalities." A voting record that shows McCain voted with George Bush 90 percent of the time also makes a serious discussion of issues a bit uncomfortable, Obama suggested.

Davis fired back today on a conference call with reporters. "If the Obama campaign spends the rest of the election talking about Rick Davis, John McCain will win in a landslide," he said.

The Obama folks believe McCain's running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin, R-Alaska, will deliver a great speech tonight. And that the criticism against her reflects a disconnection between what one called the "elites" and "average folks."

Whatever, the McCain campaign today unveiled a new advertisement challenging Obama's experience, contrasting it to Palin's.

The ad calls him the Senate's "most liberal" member, who favors giving big oil billions in subsidies and giveaways. Palin, however, took on the oil producers, the ad says. She's earned a reputation as a reformer. "His reputation?" the ad concludes, "Empty words."

The ad is based on an editorial in the Wall Street Journal.
  • Dean Reynolds

    Dean Reynolds is a CBS News National Correspondent based in Chicago.

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