Last week, the press gave Democratic presidential nominee Senator Barack Obama the pop-star treatment during an overseas trip, while his Republican rival, Senator John McCain, struggled to get attention back home. Now, McCain is taking a swing at Obama's glossy-magazine image with an ad that compares the freshman Illinois lawmaker to Paris Hilton and Britney Spears.
In the new 30-second spot called "Celeb," which is scheduled to air in 11 states, the McCain campaign mocks Obama's image as a media star by flashing pictures of tabloid staples Spears and Hilton in the opening shots. "He's the biggest celebrity in the world," a narrator says as chants of "Obama, Obama" swell in the background amid footage of the senator's speech in front of 200,000 in Berlin last week. "But is he ready to lead? With gas prices soaring, Barack Obama says no to offshore drilling and says he'll raise taxes on electricity. Higher taxes, more foreign oil — that's the real Obama."
A spokesperson for the McCain campaign confirmed the launch of the attack spot but did not respond to questions about whether Hilton or Spears had approved the usage of their images in it. In a conference call following the ad's release, McCain aides reportedly dismissed notions that the commercial had a sinister bent.
"What we decided to do is find the top-three international celebrities in the world, and I would say from our indications Britney and Paris came in second and third," campaign manager Rick Davis said in a conference call, according to the Huffington Post. "Will people think of this as negative advertising? Look, it is the most entertaining thing I have seen on TV in a while. ... It is not our campaign that is trying to make him into an international celebrity. It's his campaign. ... I don't know Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, but they are international celebrities, so, you know, apples to apples."
Chief strategist Steve Schmidt added, "It is beyond dispute that [Obama] has become the biggest celebrity in the world. It is a statement of fact that is backed up by his tour," he said, referring to last week's trip to the Middle East and Europe, which garnered wall-to-wall press coverage that left McCain scrambling for attention with widely mocked appearances at a German restaurant and a grocery store. "The question we are posing to the American people is, 'Is he ready to lead yet?' And the answer we are offering to the American people is, 'No, he is not,' " Schmidt said.
Davis also said in the conference call that the ad's intended effect was to make Obama seem "frivolous and irresponsible" like Spears and Hilton.
The Obama campaign took the new ad in stride. "On a day when major news organizations across the country are taking Senator McCain to task for a steady stream of false, negative attacks, his campaign has launched yet another," Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor said in a statement. "Or, as some might say, 'Oops! He did it again.' "
A deconstruction of the ad on the left-leaning Huffington Post called it part of a trend the political press have described as "a growing superficial negativity" that is emerging from the McCain camp, which, like Obama, had pledged to steer clear of personal attacks in the general election. "Certainly, footage of Obama alongside Spears and Hilton is designed to make him seem, at the very least, egomaniacal and, at worst, intellectually hollow," the Post wrote.
Earlier this week, McCain was taken to task for running an ad that some said questioned Obama's patriotism. The ad portrayed the Illinois senator as going to a gym to work out instead of visiting with wounded troops because he wasn't allowed to bring cameras along, an assertion that has been denied by the Obama campaign and which came despite the McCain camp's repeated pledges that it would never question Obama's patriotism.
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