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Trailing in Polls, McCain Campaign Intensifies Attacks on Obama

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With Election Day less than two weeks away, the McCain campaign is stepping up its attacks on front-runner Barack Obama. Republicans have resorted to several lines of attack on Obama: painting him as a socialist, branding him “anti-American” and using automated robocalls in at least ten battleground states. We speak to David Corn of Mother Jones. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: With Election Day less than two weeks away, the McCain campaign is stepping up its attacks on front-runner Barack Obama. The latest polls show Obama leading John McCain in several key swing states and moving to a double-digit lead nationwide.

To fight back, the McCain campaign has resorted to several lines of attack on Obama: painting him as a socialist, branding him as “anti-American” and using automated robocalls in at least ten battleground states. In at least one of the robocalls, the McCain campaign highlights Barack Obama’s connection to Bill Ayers, the former member of the Weather Underground.

    McCAIN ROBOCALL: Hello, I’m calling for John McCain and the RNC, because you need to know that Barack Obama has worked closely with domestic terrorist Bill Ayers, whose organization bombed the US Capitol, the Pentagon, a judge’s home, and killed Americans. And Democrats will enact an extreme leftist agenda if they take control of Washington. Barack Obama and his Democratic allies lack the judgment to lead our country. This call was paid for by McCain-Palin 2008 and the Republican National Committee at 202-863-8500.

AMY GOODMAN: A McCain robocall. The Obama campaign is countering attacks with a robocall of its own that’s being released today. It features a small business owner from Wisconsin.

    JERI WATERMOLEN: Hi. This is Jeri Watermolen calling for the Campaign for Change. I live in Green Bay, and like you, I’ve been getting sleazy phone calls and mail from John McCain and his supporters, viciously and falsely attacking Barack Obama. I used to support John McCain, because he honorably served our country. But this year he’s running a dishonorable campaign. We know McCain will continue many of Bush’s policies, and now he’s using George Bush’s divisive tactics. In fact, he hired the Bush strategist whose attacks even McCain once called hateful. Barack Obama will turn the page on these negative politics and stand up for the middle class. That’s the change we need, and it is why I have changed my mind about John McCain. Join me in voting for Barack Obama.

    OBAMA ROBOCALL: Paid for by the Campaign for Change, a project of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, 608-255-5172, and authorized by Obama for America.

AMY GOODMAN: David Corn joins us now. He’s the Washington bureau chief of Mother Jones magazine. His latest article is called “The Right’s Final Attack: Obama is a Black Muslim, Anti-Christian Socialist Plotting with an Evil Jewish Billionaire.” He joins us on the phone from Washington.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, David Corn. What’s going on with these robocalls?

DAVID CORN: Well, you know, I was just reading the Boston Globe. They’re referring to it as John McCain’s last desperate tactics. You know, they try to make it sound, in these calls, like Barack Obama, right now, when he’s not campaigning, is in league with domestic terrorists who are trying to kill you and your family. I mean, that’s the impression they’re trying to give, which is why they are completely false. When Sarah Palin, the other day, said Barack Obama is palling around with domestic terrorists, she used the plural, so not just Bill Ayers, but raising the suggestion that there are others out there that he’s palling around, not that he’s on a board with somebody who forty years ago was part of the Weather Underground and who has since become a pretty renowned education expert. So, I mean, they’re really trying to play on people’s fears.

And, you know, listen to what Colin Powell, what Senator Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, are saying. Norm Coleman, who’s a Republican senator in Minnesota, he’s in a very tight race there against Al Franken. They’re coming out, and they’re rejecting these ads. There was a brave young woman in a West Virginia call center. Some of these calls are automated and robotic, and others are being done by call centers, by — when you get a live person who says the same message that you just played. And she quit her job. She said, “I can’t read this stuff.” And they said, “Great, then you can leave the call center.” So there is a big, I think, reaction to this. And these, of course, are the same type of calls that were done against John McCain in 2000 by even some of the same firms working for the George Bush campaign at the time. And I’m kind of heartened, in a way, by the amount of opposition the calls have generated, from even within the Republican Party.

AMY GOODMAN: Like who?

DAVID CORN: Well, as I mentioned, Colin Powell and Senators Susan Collins and Norman Coleman.

AMY GOODMAN: How significant do you think this attack by Colin Powell — the endorsement of Barack Obama and the attack on the allegations against him?

DAVID CORN: Well, I think Colin Powell gave Barack Obama a lot of cover and gave people who want to vote for Barack Obama but still may be unsure, because they don’t know him that well, haven’t seen him on the national stage for too long — was an act of reassurance for voters like that. I was talking to someone who works for Fox News who doesn’t want Obama to win and said he thought it was a one percent difference, Colin Powell coming out and endorsing Barack Obama.

And certainly, you know, it took up a day or two of media coverage that John McCain desperately needs, because he is running out of time. Every day that we’re talking about something other than, you know, John McCain’s positive assets to be president is a bad day for the McCain campaign.

And I just also think that, you know, what’s happening here is that John McCain, you know, is running against his own brand. You know, in the late ’90s, in his first run in 2000, he had the reputation, whether it was well-deserved or not, as a politician who was more candid than most, who didn’t play the same old BS games that a lot of politicians do, and who ended up being victimized because he wouldn’t. And he became the victim of the George W. Bush Karl Rove campaign. Well, what’s happened now is he’s hired a lot of the same people who come from the Lee Atwater, Karl Rove wing of the Republican Party, in terms of political operatives, and they’re running their general playbook campaign, which is attack and slash the Democrat, call them a tax-and-spend socialist, and try to distract from the real issues and bend the [inaudible] quite far. And on the — you know, it hasn’t seemed to be working yet. And we’ll see in two weeks now whether it does at all.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain the National Republican Trust Political Action Committee?

DAVID CORN: Say that again. You just cut out for a second. The National Republican…?

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain what the National Republican Trust Political Action Committee is?

DAVID CORN: Oh, yeah, yeah. Yeah, I wrote a piece, as you referenced earlier, for a couple days ago, and there are a couple of these conservative groups who are getting very, very desperate in the final days here, and they’re making all sorts of accusations against Barack Obama, you know, trying to stop what they seem to believe will be his victory.

And a group called the National Republican Trust Political Action Committee has been sending out, you know, very desperate-sounding emails to potential conservative donors, saying that Obama is dangerous and boasting that it has the killer issue that will nail him, and that is, that he supports the Eliot Spitzer plan to — remember that? — to grant driver’s licenses to undocumented workers. And what they say is, this sort of — under this sort of plan, the next Mohamed Atta can get a driver’s license and somehow use that in a plot to destroy America. So they’re trying to tie, you know, the illegal immigrant or undocumented immigrant issue to 9/11 and say that’s Obama’s Achilles’ heel, we just have to scare enough people on this front. You know, I’ve seen that they’re — basically, they claim that they’re taking out some TV ads on this issue. I haven’t seen a big buy yet, so I don’t think they’ve raised a lot of money.

One story at this point in time is a story that I have to admit I was a bit wrong on. A couple weeks ago, and certainly months earlier, I was saying that I expected in the last week or two of the campaign for there to be a tidal wave of negative attack ads against Barack Obama, paid by and put together by groups like the Swift Boat Veterans for the Truth, backed by right-wing billionaires, that would just throw all sorts of dirt, untrue, at Barack Obama, and that would just be too much, at the end of the day, for him to actually respond to. But it seems that a lot of those right-wing billionaires these days are more worried about their portfolios than about helping John McCain, and we haven’t seen these campaigns coalesce, not to say that in, you know, still in the next week that they won’t, but those independent, outside groups, I think a lot of people were expecting them to play a much bigger role at the end of the day here. And that has yet to happen.

AMY GOODMAN: David Corn, thanks for joining us, Washington bureau chief of Mother Jones magazine. His latest piece, “The Right’s Final Attack: Obama is a Black Muslim, Anti-Christian Socialist Plotting with an Evil Jewish Billionaire.”

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