One of the most fascinating things to watch about the McCain campaign is how closely it is following the pattern of the Clinton campaign earlier this year. Consider:
--it began with denial -- McCain was saddled with a hapless campaign staff that failed to craft a a compelling story -- and a sustainable strategy -- early enough in the campaign to make a difference. Remember what they said about Hillary's campaign strategy?
--it quickly turned negative. But much to everyone's surprise, McCain has not been able to come up with new material (with the possible exception with the ACORN story), relying instead on the set pieces that Hillary's team designed in the Spring (e.g., Ayers).
--going negative didn't work, so McCain got his voice back, but is now focusing both on the positive and the negative. On the same night that he traded good-natured jokes with Obama, his campaign was busy launching a vicious robocall campaign in key swing states. Again, shades of the Clinton campaign, in its final weeks.
--as a result of all these twists and turns, McCain looks erratic, and Obama looks more presidential -- the same situation that Hillary found herself in during the last stretch of the primary. In the final weeks, she got her voice back. But it was way too late.
Of course, it's impossible to predict how the voters will go on November 4. But if there's a lesson we can draw from the journey so far it's that it pays to lead with a positive message -- and defend with the negative, when neccessary -- and stick to it. After so many election cycles where some of the best political minds and operatives taught the market that going negative is more effective, this is a breath of fresh air. Depending on the outcome of this election, we may be entering the post Atwater/Rove era of political campaigning -- an era when what you stand for matters more than anything you can say about your opponent.