Sunday, September 07, 2008


Today's New York Times had a worshipful piece by Jim Rutenberg and Adam Nagourney about McCain campaign chief Steve Schmidt. This is almost as big a problem as the media's crush on Sarah Palin, because if the journos think you're running the smarter campaign, you get better press. And Schmidt's success has been greatly exaggerated.

Rutenberg and Nagourney:

It was what aides to Senator John McCain describe as probably the worst night of his campaign. As Senator Barack Obama claimed the Democratic nomination before a cheering sea of faces on national television, Mr. McCain countered with a lackluster speech in a half-empty hall, posed in front of a pea-green screen that became fodder for late-night comedy.

Steve Schmidt, a senior adviser to Mr. McCain who worked on President Bush's campaign in 2004, could barely hide his fury in the coming days, as he announced -- to anyone who would listen -- that he would personally make certain the McCain campaign would never again embarrass Mr. McCain.

"Fun Steve is dead," Mr. Schmidt said.

In the three months since that night in June, the McCain organization has become a campaign transformed: an elbows-out, risk-taking, disciplined machine that was on display here last week at the Republican convention that nominated Mr. McCain. And the catalyst for the change has largely been Mr. Schmidt....

Um, do you know where McCain is right now in the Rasmussen poll, just after his party's convention? He's tied with Obama.

Do you know where McCain was in the same poll on June 7, four days after that speech? He was down by 3 points. Not a huge difference.

Same with Gallup. After his convention bounce (which one assumes is temporary), McCain is up by 3. On June 8 (in the first Gallup tracking poll taken completely after the alleged green-screen humiliation), McCain was down by 2. Difference? A whopping 5 points, much of it probably an evanescent bounce.

Folks, Schmidt is not getting spectacular results. McCain is in the race, but McCain was always going to be in the race, because every Democrat who runs for president runs against a decades-old, constantly refreshed collection of smears and stereotypes.

And yet Schmidt is being treated as a miracle worker, because his nasty ads are fun to write about (thus making journalists' jobs easier), and possibly because he's attacking the press (journalists always like Republicans who attack them).

I've said several times that Obama campaign really needs an attack ad that goes viral, because getting the press to think you have the cooler campaign is important -- it gets you better press. McCain's post-convention lead is notably smaller than Obama's in these tracking polls, which says to me that Obama's still winning -- but the press doesn't think so, and now clearly thinks Schmidt is running the cooler campaign and Palin is the coolest of the four candidates. I hope this doesn't matter, but I fear it does.

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