(FORT MYERS, FLA.) On the day when the McCain campaign released a new attack ad not-so-subtly titled "Dangerous," Sarah Palin made a concerted effort to use words like "fearful" and "afraid" to describe Barack Obama, signaling her campaign's decision to make the election a referendum on Obama's character, rather than the issues facing the country.
"I am just so fearful that this is not a man who sees America the way that you and I see America—as the greatest source of good in this world," Palin said at a rally this morning in Clearwater, Fla.
"I'm afraid this is someone who sees America as imperfect enough to work with a former domestic terrorist who had targeted his own country. This, ladies and gentlemen, has nothing to do with the kind of change anyone can believe in—not my kids, not for your kids."
Palin has devoted a significant portion of every one of her stump speeches in recent days to lamenting that the "filter of the mainstream media" has not given her a chance to do what she really wants to do: talk about the issues. But in filter-free forums across the country, Palin continues to speak in generalities about where she and John McCain want to take the country, calling for tax cuts, winning the wars, and reforming government, while providing very few details on how she would accomplish those goals.
Instead, Palin has increasingly focused her remarks on tearing down Obama.
"Either do the math or just go with your gut," Palin said at a rally here this morning. "Either way you're going to come up with the same conclusion — Barack Obama is gonna raise your taxes. So there's a pattern here of a left-wing agenda that is packaged and prettied up to look like mainstream policies."
Though it is nothing new for Palin to question Obama's promise to initiate tax cuts, it has only been in recent days that she her stump speeches have been marked by a series of scathing, personal attacks. Beginning with a fundraiser in Denver on Saturday, Palin has linked Obama to former 60s radical William Ayers at every public rally and closed fundraiser she has attended. The Alaska governor said the two men had a relationship akin to being "pals," even though the Associated Press and many other news outlets have concluded that Obama and Ayers' relationship added up to far less than a close friendship.
In the 1988 and 2004 elections, Democratic nominees Michael Dukakis and John Kerry also found themselves coming under personal attacks in the waning days of the campaign, and both men were criticized for not responding forcefully. By contrast, the Obama campaign is not only defending its candidate, it is launching a full-on counterattack against McCain, using a similarly questionable guilt by association tactic of highlighting the Arizona senator's involvement in the "Keating Five" savings-and-loan scandal of almost 20 years ago.
The shift in Palin's rhetoric comes as the McCain/Palin campaign finds itself trailing the Democrats in nearly every important battleground state. A WBZ poll out today shows the Obama/Biden ticket with a whopping 13-point lead in New Hampshire, marking a dramatic turnaround in a state where, in January, McCain won the first-in-the-nation primary and Obama lost.
Although she almost always wears a sunny demeanor, smiling broadly even as she delivers her scathing barbs against Obama, Palin's words show that she has embraced the traditional vice presidential candidate's role of being the attack dog and is even more willing than McCain to engage in personal mudslinging.
Palin recently questioned Obama's relationship with his former pastor Jeremiah Wright, even though McCain vowed that his campaign would not use Wright to score political points.
"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," Palin told New York Times columnist William Kristol.
"But you know, I guess that would be a John McCain call on whether he wants to bring that up."