Anti-Obama ad a winner for McCain

If someone planned a strategy for the North Carolina GOP's ad attacking Obama, and John McCain's response, he or she did a great job.

By Alex Koppelman

Published April 24, 2008 10:33PM (EDT)

Let's recap: The North Carolina GOP creates a new television ad. Tangentially, it's an attack on the two candidates vying for the Democratic nomination to be that state's governor. Really, it's mostly an attack on Barack Obama -- it's composed almost entirely of a video of one of the more controversial statements made by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama's former pastor. But the two state Democrats endorsed Obama, so they get mentioned as well.

The ad is exactly the kind of thing everyone's been expecting the right to do to smear Obama if and when he gets the Democratic nomination. But John McCain is publicly against these kinds of negative ads. So he -- and the Republican National Committee -- condemn the ad and ask the state party not to run it.

Here's where it starts getting almost unbearably meta. See, as a result of the controversy, the ad is news. And so the media starts playing and discussing the spot ad infinitum, all the while noting that McCain says the ad is very, very bad and that, really, if his party's nomination had given him any power whatsoever within his party he'd totally stop this. (But he won't retaliate against those who produced and ran the ad if he becomes president.)

The ad first became news on Wednesday. On Thursday, the story continued because of confusion over whether the state party would in fact be pulling the ad -- a McCain advisor said it would, and then the state party denied that, saying in a statement the ad will run as planned. Of course, once the ad actually does start running next week, it'll be news again. And when some television stations refuse to run the ad -- one already has -- Republicans will get to complain about liberal media bias, and the discussion of the spot will go on even longer.

We don't know whether all this was planned in advance. But considering that this has turned out to be an unconditional messaging victory for the Republicans, if it was planned, whoever came up with the idea deserves a big Christmas bonus this year.

(By the way, just as I was about to publish this post, I got this statement from an Obama campaign spokesman: "The fact that Senator McCain can't get his own party to take down this misleading, personal attack ad raises serious questions about his promise to the American people that he will run a civil, respectful campaign.")

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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2008 Elections Barack Obama John Mccain R-ariz.