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McCain’s Socialism Attack Not Changing the Game

All the McCain campaign’s talk of Sen. Barack Obama’s desire to “spread the wealth” and promote “redistributive change” raises the question of whether red-baiting is as potent a weapon as it used to be.

To be sure, some conservatives have been so quick to label even moderate liberals as “socialists” that the term has lost much of its resonance in American politics. There haven’t been any Soviet tanks rolling through Eastern Europe in nearly two decades, and it’s unlikely the term has any relevance to many Americans under 30.

Nevertheless, Sen. John McCain appears to be hanging his dwindling chances of winning the presidency on the hope that he can make the “socialist” label stick to Obama.

McCain has used Joe the Plumber as his principal foil in this line of attack. You’ll remember that in answering a question about his tax plan, Obama said he wanted to “spread the wealth.” At campaign rallies, McCain repeatedly mentions the plumber and encourages supporters to embrace the “Joe the Plumber” within themselves.

Is it working?

If McCain’s standing in the polls is any barometer, the answer would have to be — “not really.”

On Oct. 15, the day McCain made a campaign issue of Joe the Plumber, Obama led McCain in Joe’s home state of Ohio by an average of 3.4 percentage points in major polls in the state, according to RealClearPolitics. Today, the gap has yawned to six points.

In Pennsylvania, McCain was trailing Obama by an average of 13.6 percentage points on Oct. 15. Today, Obama leads by 11.4 percentage points.

Florida is one state in which McCain has been able to make up some ground recently. After trailing by an average of 4.8 points on Oct. 15, McCain is now behind by just 2.2 points.

However, McCain’s national standing remains unchanged, with the GOP presidential nominee behind by an average of 7.3 percentage points today, just as he was Oct. 15.

Of course, it’s impossible to attribute any day-to-day variation in polls to one cause or issue — but the big picture suggests McCain’s recent strategy, which has relied heavily on Joe the Plumber and the “S-word,” has failed to have much of an impact in the race, let alone fundamentally transform the dynamics of the campaign.

It also suggests that the specter of socialism is not the bogeyman it once was in the eyes of the American public.

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