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Starting Gate: What Time Is It?

"It's 3 am" again and this time, the crisis is economic in nature. Hillary Clinton's campaign released the second "3 am" ad yesterday in Pennsylvania, this time questioning John McCain's ability to respond to a financial crisis at home or somewhere around the world. "John McCain just said the government shouldn't take any real action on the housing crisis, he'd let the phone keep ringing," the ad insists.

Showing some agility, McCain's campaign created a response ad just hours after Clinton's was announced. The response begins with the same setup as the Clinton ad but shoots back, saying, "Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama just said they'd solve the problem by raising your taxes … more money out of your pocket."

Even as the two candidates made very traditional arguments for a Democrat and Republican, the "3 am" imagery has injected a new twist into this campaign. At a base level, it's about experience. The original ad, launched in Texas last month, was designed to raise questions about Obama's experience and ability to handle a national security crisis.

Now that's it's become part of the fabric to the campaign, does it say something larger about the political atmosphere of the day? It's been an historic campaign and, by most measures, a very uplifting one as well. No doubt, it's on that has seen its share of negativity but going to far has gotten a rebuke from voters. It didn't help Mitt Romney in Iowa or New Hampshire when he ran millions of dollars worth of traditional "contrast" ads against McCain and Mike Huckabee. And when the Clinton campaign even appeared to be treading into the territory of exploiting race, the candidate went on a long and damaging losing streak that may have cost her the nomination.

The overall tone has been a hopeful one, often approaching uplifting. But the "3 am" ad – and its spread in commentary and humor – exposes a great deal of underlying anxiety, doesn't it? Voters may want to be hopeful but they're also uncertain about everything from their pocketbooks to the nation's place in the world. Has "change" v. "experience" turned into a contest between "hope" and "anxiety?" And who benefits the most from that? It may depend on what time it is in November.

Another Day, Another Bio Stop: McCain's trip down memory lane stops in Jacksonville, Florida today where the Navy pilot departed for Vietnam and where he returned as a war hero. For a candidate so closely associated with war, McCain gives quite a different impression in his speech this morning, according to prepared remarks:

"I detest war," he will say. "It might not be the worst thing to befall human beings, but it is wretched beyond all description. Not the valor with which it is fought nor the nobility of the cause it serves, can glorify war. Whatever gains are secured, it is loss the veteran remembers most keenly. Only a fool or a fraud sentimentalizes the merciless reality of war. However heady the appeal of a call to arms, however just the cause, we should still shed a tear for all that is lost when war claims its wages from us. However glorious the cause, it does not define the experience of war. War mocks our idealized conceptions of glory, whether they are genuine and worthy or something less. War has its own truths. And if glory can be found in war, it is a different concept altogether. It is a hard-pressed, bloody, and soiled glory, steely and forbearing. It is decency and love persisting amid awful degradation, in unsurpassed suffering, misery, and cruelty. It is the discovery that we belong to something bigger than ourselves."

Cash And Carry: The Associated Press has taken an in-depth look at Cindy McCain's wealth and the ways in which it has aided McCain's political rise. From the analysis:

"As heiress to her father's stake in Hensley & Co. of Phoenix, Cindy McCain is an executive whose worth may exceed $100 million. Her beer earnings have afforded the GOP presidential nominee a wealthy lifestyle with a private jet and vacation homes at his disposal, and her connections helped him launch his political career - even if the millions remain in her name alone. Yet the arm's-length distance between McCain and his wife's assets also has helped shield him from conflict-of-interest problems."

Around The Track

  • Obama picked up another superdelegate yesterday when former Montana Senator John Melcher endorsed him. Melcher says Obama's early opposition to the Iraq War is the major reason why.
  • "I'm honored to have Heidi's support and I want to assure her that I never miss an episode of 'The Hills,' especially since the new season started." – John McCain, flashing a little hipness in responding to news that quasi-celebrity Heidi Montag has endorsed him.
  • Jane Fonda has "endorsed" Obama with one word.
  • Students in Indiana who register a set-amount of voters in advance with that state's May 6th primary get a chance to play in a 3-on-3 basketball game with the candidate.
  • Editor's Note: Starting Gate will be taking a break on Friday, April 4th but stay tuned to Horserace for all the latest campaign news.
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