Starting Gate: Back To The Issues?

For anyone who might have been under the illusion that the counter-offensive by Barack Obama's campaign fizzled out of the gate, it looks like they were just getting warmed up. Obama is out with a tough new ad this morning questioning John McCain's campaign tactics (and honor). And vice presidential candidate Joe Biden (remember him?) is slated to bang away at McCain in an appearance today, reports CBS News' Ryan Corsaro.

Democrats have been nervously waiting for Obama to hit back at McCain after more than a month of attacks from the Republican and now that the intense interest over Sarah Palin's selection has waned a bit, it seems like good timing to get back on the offensive.

But timing is everything in politics and events have their own way of foiling the best of plans and fresh turmoil in the financial markets could well overwhelm Obama's new message.

For more than a year now voters have been telling anyone who bothered asking that the economy was the number one concern on their minds. It may come as a surprise to some, but lipstick on pigs hasn't even make the cut in the reams and reams of polling data compiled on voter concerns. It's not just the economy, stupid. It's the economy, the economy, the economy that voters want addressed.

Up until now, voters haven't been hearing too much about what these candidates plan to do for the economy overall. There's been lots of talk about energy, certainly a big part of economic concerns, and chants of "drill now." They have heard that McCain's economic plans are identical to President Bush's and been told that Obama would be a tax hiker's best friend. But neither have "focused like a laser" on the economy the way Bill Clinton did in 1992.

That may start changing today – by necessity. Little else is likely to get through during a week that is beginning with a major financial crisis. Both candidates jumped on the news this morning. "The challenges facing our financial system today are more evidence that too many folks in Washington and on Wall Street weren't minding the store," Obama said in a statement. "Eight years of policies that have shredded consumer protections, loosened oversight and regulation, and encouraged outsized bonuses to CEOs while ignoring middle-class Americans have brought us to the most serious financial crisis since the Great Depression. … I certainly don't fault Sen. McCain for these problems, but I do fault the economic philosophy he subscribes to."

For his part, McCain was quickly up with a new TV ad. "Our economy in crisis," the ad begins. "Only proven reformers John McCain and Sarah Palin can fix it: Tougher rules on Wall Street to protect your life savings, no special interest giveaways, lower taxes to create new jobs, offshore drilling to reduce gas prices."

Conventional wisdom holds that the economic debate is friendly ground for Obama but if so, why hasn't that message gotten through? Perhaps it's because there are no easy answers, no silver policy bullets that would solve a complex problem without sacrifice. But like it or not, the campaigns are going to have to get back to the basic issues, maybe sooner rather than later.

Around The Track

  • Obama must reclaim the mantle of outsider and get his campaign back to where it began, argues Democratic strategist and CBS News consultant Joe Trippi.
  • Sarah Palin enjoyed the "Saturday Night Live" send-up of her over the weekend, a spokeswoman told CBS News' Scott Conroy. "She thought it was quite funny, particularly because she once dressed up as Tina Fey for Halloween," said Palin aide Tracey Schmitt.
  • After trailing by as many as 13 points in May, a new Minneapolis Star Tribune poll finds that McCain has pulled even with Obama in Minnesota – 45 percent to 45 percent.
  • "McCain has gone in some of his ads … one step too far and sort of attributing to Obama things that are, you know, beyond the 100-percent-truth test." --- Former Bush adviser Karl Rove, talking about the McCain campaign on "Fox News Sunday."