Barack Obama went on the attack yesterday in an effort to wrest back the banner of "change" and "reform" from John McCain whose reinvigorated presidential campaign is edging him ahead in polls.
Watch Obama's "Still"
An aggressive new TV advertisement contains unflattering footage of Mr McCain speaking at a congressional hearing in the early 1980s. His hair is on the long side, he is wearing oversized glasses and a pale suit which, to modern eyes, looks very dated. The ad ribs Mr McCain's lack of familiarity with the basics of email, his poor grasp of economics and the $200bn tax cut he plans for corporate fat cats if elected.
The footage is interspersed with shots of early computers, a Rubik cube, a disco ball and long playing records. It closes with Senator McCain standing beside George Bush at the White House along with the message: "After one president who was out of touch, we just can't afford more of the same."
Mr McCain has admitted he relies on his wife, Cindy, and campaign staff to browse web pages and that he has not mastered email.
The Obama fightback comes as the McCain campaign continues to outflank it. Already known as a maverick, Mr McCain managed to neatly appropriate the mantra of change by appointing the untested but reform-minded first-term Governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, as his running mate.
Her enormous popularity with white voters in Middle America makes her difficult to attack. As a result, the Obama campaign is losing altitude, especially in swing states such as New Hampshire where the Illinois senator was busy campaigning yesterday. He is also conducting interviews with local TV stations in five battleground states.
A new theme includes demanding equal pay for women, an issue that has resonated with supporters of Hillary Clinton.
But going negative is an equally risky strategy for Mr Obama whose broad appeal comes from his message of rising above partisan politics. The Democrats have been careful not to attack Mrs Palin directly. In a forum in New York this week, Mr Obama even agreed that the mayors of small towns across America have the toughest job in the country, while he belittled the work of the Senate.
"We yak in the Senate," he said. "They actually have to fill potholes and trim trees and make sure the garbage is taken away."
Watch Obama's "Naked Lies" ad
The television commercial that mocks Mr McCain as an out-of-touch, out-of-date computer illiterate, was the Democratic candidate's sharpest swipe yet at his adversary. It pointed to a new fighting spirit. Wary that the campaign will now be accused of ageism, a spokesman, Dan Pfeiffer, said they were not making an issue of 72-year-old Mr McCain's age, but his time spent as a Washington insider.
Senior Democrats are frustrated with the Obama campaign's apparent lack of aggression in striking back when the McCain campaign makes patently false claims.
The Obama campaign says the fightback will be multi-pronged and be carried out by the candidate, his running mate Joe Biden as well as other surrogates such as the former president Bill Clinton.
"Today is the first day of the rest of the campaign," the campaign's manager David Plouffe said, accusing the Republicans of "smears, lies, and cynical attempts to distract from the issues that matter to the American people".
"We will respond with speed and ferocity to John McCain's attacks and we will take the fight to him, but we will do it on the big issues that matter to the American people," Mr Plouffe stated. "We will not allow John McCain and his band of Karl Rove disciples to make this big election about small things."
The Obama campaign insists that the aggressive turn has nothing to do with the Sarah Palin phenomenon but was all timed to the final weeks of the election. The fightback follows attack ads by the McCain campaign that falsely accused Mr Obama of endorsing sex education for kindergarten students.Reuse content