Wright Where It Belongs


As John McCain's fallen in the polls, a question I hear again and again in D.C. is: When will he unleash the Jeremiah Wright ads? It's just assumed that, at some point, McCain or a 527 will remind voters that for 20 years Barack Obama sat in the pews with a pastor who said "God Damn America" and… other things.

Anonymous Liberal
, via Andrew Sullivan, wonders if we'll ever see the ads at all.

Given the way he's run his campaign, I'm convinced he would authorize any attack he thought would work. I think the reason we haven't seen the Wright card played yet is that McCain and his advisers are genuinely not sure how it would go over. Could it scare some voters away from Obama? Certainly. Could it look like an overt appeal to racism and generate a backlash, especially among the media? That's also a distinct possibility.

In other words, it's a big gamble, too big a gamble to make while you're within shooting distance in the polls.But big gambles start to look better when you're trailing by a lot and running out of time.

AL concludes that if a Wright ad appears, it'll appear in the 19-day stretch between the final debate and the election. I think it's possible a Wright ad would surface before the final (10/15) debate, just as a way to get a question in there about the rev. Nothing rattles Obama more. But at this late date I'm a skeptic about the power of Wright.

For starters, McCain's anti-Obama narrative has not been the one that makes Wright an issue. That would be the narrative of Stanley Kurtz, Jerry Corsi, and talk radio: Obama is a radical in disguise, and you may know him by the company he keeps. McCain has attacked Obama as a lightweight celebrity and a clueless liberal who's "not ready to lead." Not the same thing at all. The Wright attack would be jarring.

Second, I'd love to see the focus grouping on Wright, because I wonder if it's simply "baked in" to Obama's current numbers. At the height of the story in March (and again in late April), most of the country had heard and seen about Wright. Obama's numbers took a permanent hit, on "patriotism," on "who shares your values." And yet, he's still here. Compared to, say, Mike Dukakis, who never recovered after summertime attacks on his veto of a Massachusetts pledge of allegiance law and on prison furloughs, Obama recovered slightly.

There's no direct evidence that the Wright issue doesn't hurt at all, but compare it to the Bill Ayers issue. For a month, a conservative 527 has bought ads in Michigan and Ohio linking Obama with Ayers and his Weather Underground bombings. They've spent millions of dollars. But Obama has experienced no slippage in Michigan, and a little lost momentum in Ohio has been regained during the economic crisis.

Wright is a far more damaging friend of Obama for proximity and racial reasons, of course. But even when you're running a negative campaign, you try and point the plane up in the final week. You don't go out with an A-bomb. The backlash risk is too high. Maybe McCain will deploy Jeremiah Wright, but don't be surprised if the attack doesn't move the polls.