Both Sides Test Attacks for the Fall

Washington Matters

Both Sides Test Attacks for the Fall

Want a preview on what the fall presidential campaign might look like? Both parties are sharpening their opposition research, preparing to unload a dump truck of negative ads in hopes of putting chinks in opponents' armor.


Republican Party operatives have more time than Democrats to test and polish their talking points now that John McCain is the party nominee-in-waiting, but they also have to do research on two candidates for at least a while longer. Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are still much more focused on their own contest than on the fall, though party officials are starting to consider what might work best against McCain.

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If Obama is the nominee, a slew of GOP attack ads and coordinated op-eds will focus on his foreign policy experience, a clearly thin record by any fair measure versus McCain. In fact, they've already started. The attacks are partly an attempt by Republicans to make foreign policy vie with the economy this fall among voters. That's a good bet on their part.


If Clinton gets the nomination, Republicans will mine volumes of past records and assertions by the nominee, including her own claims to have broad foreign policy experience. The so-called embellishment issue will come up: Can she be trusted to tell the truth? They'll highlight her false statements about sniper fire during her visit to Bosnia and question her role in the Northern Irish peace agreement, in passing the Family and Medical leave act and many others.


Democrats will clearly frame the fall election as change versus more of the same. They want to take advantage of the national sentiment to get away from the eight years of President Bush's administration. Look for ads referring to a vote for McCain as a vote for a third Bush term or describing McCain as the strongest remaining supporter of Bush's "failed policy" in Iraq and as wanting to continue tax breaks for the wealthiest -- a class argument that Democrats have often used at the national level. Another will be liberal use of the term "the Bush-McCain recession" to describe McCain's economic policies as being close to that of Bush.


While Republicans see national security and foreign policy as strong points for McCain, look for Democrats to question his support for the war in Iraq time and again.


And with the housing and mortgage issues sure to percolate through the summer and fall, Democrats will attack McCain for being reluctant to help distressed homeowners.