Starting Gate: A Tough Call

John McCain's campaign hit Barack Obama this weekend over his decision not to stop by the Landstuhl hospital in Germany to visit wounded troops while on his European tour last week. A new ad released by the McCain camp accused Obama of making time "to go to the gym" on his trip, but canceling "a visit with wounded troops. Seems the Pentagon wouldn't allow him to bring cameras," the ad states.

The Obama campaign says the proposed visit was cancelled because it was a campaign trip (not a congressional delegation trip like the one he took to Iraq and Afghanistan where he met with wounded troops). And despite some back-and-forth with the Pentagon over the specifics of what happened, the Obama campaign points out that such a visit on the campaign's dime would have been singled out for criticism had he gone.

Specifics aside, the McCain camp's decision to roll out their criticism in a tough ad is the latest example of an increasingly aggressive (dare we say "negative") tone. Whether the issue is Iraq, Iran, the economy or energy policy, McCain's criticisms of Obama are growing sharper and more pointed. Given the success of Obama's rock star trek overseas and the lead the Democrat holds in the polls, the stepped-up attacks might be understandable.

But does McCain risk losing one of the few advantages he has by doing so? In this very difficult environment for Republicans, McCain has still managed to float above his party label for the most part. His reputation as a "maverick" may have hurt him within his own party, but makes him more popular among independent voters. And even those who may disagree with him on most issues don't have the same level of dislike they might for President Bush or other Republicans.

Simply put, McCain is likeable – or at least does not generate the same deep level of divisions that have become part of presidential politics. Obama may be ahead in this race but does not seem to have "closed the deal" with voters. In the next 99 days, there will be plenty of opportunities for him to do that – or raise more questions in the minds of voters about the riskiness of elevating someone so new to the stage to the presidency.

The GOP campaign will certainly do their best to raise those kinds of questions but if he's seen as too negative or overly aggressive, McCain may not find himself in a position to benefit from concerns voters might have on Election Day.

Around The Track

  • After a week spend focused on foreign policy, both candidates jump back into the economy. Obama will talk with advisers at an economic roundtable in Washington while McCain makes the media rounds and raises money in California.
  • CBS News' Maria Gavrilovic looks at Obama's overseas trip and breaks down what the candidate learned from it. Among them: Don't leave a note at the Western Wall if you are running for president. "On just a few hours of sleep, Obama paid a pre-dawn visit to Jerusalem's Western Wall where he placed a written prayer between stones. Thousands of visitors leave similar notes but rarely is one tampered with. Obama's note, on the other hand, was allegedly taken from the wall and published by Israeli newspapers. The campaign would not confirm or deny that the note was legitimate, but Shmeul Rabinovitz, the rabbi in charge of the Western Wall condemned the incident as an intrusion on Obama's relationship with God."
  • The Politico looks at why McCain seems to be struggling with the Latino vote.
  • More details are emerging about Obama's acceptance speech which will be in Invesco field in Denver. According to plans from the convention, Obama will speak from the 50-yard line. "Obama will be standing in a circular podium 6 1/2 feet off the
    ground when he makes the historic speech," the AP reports, "with almost 6,000 delegates seated on the field."