Quick quiz. Quiz? Yeah, yeah, I’m talking American these days. That’s just happening. Yesterday I told a waitress “I don’t want no slaw”. More like, “ah don’t wan no slaaw”. And then I laid waste to another country half a world away — ‘sall just habit.

Where was I? Oh yeah. Quick quiz. You are a John McCain campaign manager. You have not had a good week. Your opponent, taking up a dare to visit warzones has emerged from the trip looking presidential. Your only planned photo op — on an oil rig arguing for the safety and wisdom of offshore drilling — has been cancelled due to an oil slick caused by a shipping accident during a hurricane.

Now your opponent is giving a speech, in Germany, to a quarter of a million people. Spectacular, but also risky, as some conservative Democrat voters may see European adulation as a negative. In response to this Berlin fest do you:

a) have your candidate doing something utterly American — hay baling in Iowa, in front of a red barn, with old glory waving in the corner of the frame?

b) have an all dumpling lunch at the Sons of Kosciusko Hall in Pittsburgh and try and grab a slice of the Polish-American bluecollar vote — or any of the smorgasbord of ethnicities who have reason to dislike any sucking up to the Germans

c) go to a German restaurant.

Did you not choose c)? have you not been paying attention all week? Yes, as Barack Obama gave a speech that was not his greatest but — if it was your first — would have been simply gobsmacking, (“this city of all cities knows the dream of freedom…..people of Berlin, people of the world, this is our time”…) John McCain was at, seriously, Schmidts restaurant und sausage haus in Columbus, fielding a bunch of questions about ….ohhh guess.

I am genuinely perplexed by all of this. Has his staff been infiltrated by Obamabots, their sleek metal skin hidden beneath the GOP blue suit white shirt red tie uniform? Have they adopted Bush White House hiring practices? (The current deputy chief of staff Blake Gottsman was former Barney-wrangler, handling the President’s scotch terrier on all flights, and prior to that, perhaps as apprenticeship, dating Jenna Bush).

The bad media just piles up for Macca. Even a supermarket visit turned out badly, as he offered to help a mother with toddler handle her groceries. She was embarrassed, he was embarrassed, eventually she said “you could grab me one of those” and Macca fumbled for a top-shelf tin, looking as awkward as any 60-year-old former engineer eking out a living as a Walmart greeter.

Was that before he was riding round Kennebunkport with Bush 41 in a golf buggy, as Obama addressed the world from a mountain in Jerusalem like we were in chapter 6 of a Dan Brown novel? There’s been so many.

The amazing thing is that McCain could be getting good photo ops in a kore intimate setting while Obama is away — taking his coat off for goddsake, talking to farmers, to people in rustbelt cities, ramping up the home grown hero thing, downplaying age. Instead, he’s become a stooge in a suit. Beneath the savour, one can feel a taste of pity rising in the gorge.

For all that of course, McCain is still competitive — but really starting to slide — every poll, even Gallup which was calling a dead heat, has him running about 4 points behind, and the figures are worse in swing states. Places like North Dakota are now competitive.

How much of this photo-op flummery makes a difference on either side? We will soon find out. Y’all.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey