Pittsburgh, Pa. — Today, the McCain campaign sent its candidate out into Pennsylvania’s suburban centers for the second time in as many days, raising questions about what exact strategy the team was following. Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has turned out to be huge asset in the state’s rural areas, but state polls continue to show Sen. John McCain trailing significantly — by around eight points — thanks to Sen. Barack Obama’s overwhelming popularity in the cities.
Yet McCain’s advisers insist the race is close, perhaps even a statistical tie. The rallies in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, they say, will eat into Obama’s margins.
But in order for movement on the margins to matter, says senior adviser Charlie Black, McCain is going to have to clean up– and turn out — in central and western Pennsylvania. “If you have a big turnout in those parts of the state,” said Black, “he’ll have a good lead before you get to southeastern Pennsylvania.”
That’s where Palin comes in. She spent most of the last week almost exclusively darting around rural Pennsylvania, hitting Little League stadiums, high school gyms, diners and even a pumpkin patch. At some rallies, she drew crowds four and five times the size of McCain’s.
“What works [in the suburbs] is the tax message — Joe the Plumber,” said Black. Also, what Black called, “the Joe the Biden message” — the idea that “the next president will be tested so you need to focus on who would be best to be commander in chief.”
These points seem especially high-minded compared with Palin’s invocation of Obama’s “associations” with the likes of William Ayers and Rashid Khalidi, who McCain has not mentioned on the stump in days. Palin has herself avoided mentioning Rev. Jeremiah Wright. But the Pennsylvania GOP, however, is currently running an ad featuring the controversial reverend — despite an early vow from McCain that the campaign would steer clear of him.
“We wish they wouldn’t do Wright ads,” Black said, “but, as McCain said in the spring, we can’t be the referee of every ad. … People know how he feels. If they cared what he felt about the issue, they wouldn’t run the ad.”
Black says the campaign expects to be “400,000 votes down” in Philadelphia alone, “but the suburbs are the key.” Thus, while Palin works the outdoorsy types with talk of that “real” portion of America that is otherwise so elusive, and puts even the most technical and esoteric policies in terms of what’s good for “our children,” McCain sticks primarily to economic nuts and bolts.
Today McCain chastised Obama for supposedly wanting to raise taxes, whereas he would let people “keep more money in their pants.”