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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

McCain’s Housing Gaffe

The big buzz in Democratic circles today, even eclipsing veep speculation, is about the precise amount of damage John McCain might have done himself yesterday in admitting he didn’t know how many houses he owned.
At a time when an awful lot of Americans are losing, or afraid of losing, their one home, this wasn’t a terribly felicitous remark, particularly from a candidate whose age and focus have occasionally been questioned. And Barack Obama wasted no time leaping on the gaffe, suggesting it showed that McCain was generally out of touch with the economic woes of middle-class families. It is, in fact, reminiscent of the iconic moment in the 1992 campaign when George H.W. Bush expressed amazement at his discovery of grocery-store scanners.
Team McCain has fired back the only way it knows how, by making an immediate reference to McCain’s POW experience: “This is a guy who lived in one house for five and a half years — in prison.”
The timing of the gaffe is unfortunate for McCain, since the Democratic gathering in Denver will offer lots of opportunities for speakers to mock the Republican candidate’s wealth and self-ignorance. But expect convention message-managers to take care that they don’t overdo it. Just prior to the 1992 convention, Vice President Dan Quayle delighted late-night comics by stubbornly insisting that the starchy tuber from which french fries are made was spelled “potatoe.” On the second day of the Democratic festival in New York, word came down from the high command to the speech and rehearsal staff: “No more potato jokes.” Even the most powerful gaffe sometimes needs to be allowed to sink in naturally.

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