Primal Scream

September 8, 2008 11:50 a.m.

The TPM email bag this morning is chock of emails saying, in so many words, is it time to panic? I’m actually not taking much summary license here. Most of the emails I’m talking about actually ends with some form of that sentence. Since a lot of you are asking this I thought I should provide some sort of answer.

First, I think the USAToday/Gallup poll is an outlier. I wouldn’t put much stock in it. It’s clear that McCain is getting a sizable bump out of his convention. But remember, Obama did too. It quickly subsided, as was expected. And we should expect McCain’s to as well. We’ll know more by the end of the week.

Polls aside though, I continue to see a campaign in which the McCain camp has a consistent and aggressive message. They’re constantly on the attack and largely defining the debate. The Obama campaign is largely reactive, parrying the attacks — sometimes rapid response, sometimes slower response, but defined largely by response. It seemed that way to me in July, in August and it seems that way to me now.

At several points over the last year, I’ve underestimated Obama’s campaign. And I take it that their position now is that they’re not going to get knocked off their game. Instead they’re staying focused on the ground game in the dozen and a half states where they believe the race will be won or lost. That’s difficult for someone in my position to evaluate. The messaging and air war is something that is inherently visible. The ground game is very difficult to evaluate because it’s much more difficult to see. So we’re left to take it on faith that they know what they’re doing, without having much way of seeing for ourselves.

I certainly hope they do. But what I see is a campaign that is for some reason either unwilling or unable to take the initiative in the national messaging war. It’s all reactive. And, yeah, that worries me.

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