Mitt Romney, for all his faults, is better than nearly any candidate in recent memory in staying on message. And he did this morning again and again in pushing back on the new Barack Obama ad which, the McCain team contends, is misleading in several respects. Romney was blunt: Obama is dishonest because no “oil company” has or can legally give money to John McCain (or any candidate) and the “tax cut for Exxon” isn’t a special tax cut for big oil but a mischaracterization of McCain’s across the board corporate tax. (At least in this segment Romney doesn’t mention that Obama is now talking about a corporate tax cut.)
Meanwhile, the new kid on the VP consideration block, Eric Cantor, does his energy pushback/surrogate try out on a media call of his own. Unlike his fellow Virginian Tim Kaine, he’s mum about his VP chances. But it’s clear that his profile has risen in the McCain camp.
What to make of this? Three things, I think. First, Obama’s ads really are problematic and he repeats the mistake of earlier efforts in believing that no one will notice. At a time when he’s fighting off an onslaught of attacks from McCain and skepticism from pundits as to whether his New Politics is a canard, this is a risky approach. Second, his ad suggests that the Obama camp is more than a little nervous about the energy issue. They have been thrown on defense and the strain is apparent. And finally, we see once again that it helps to have good surrogates. But frankly that’s not the only thing to look for in a VP. Either one of the two potential VP’s can make an argument and both can continue doing so in the future. It’s not the sole consideration for picking a VP (especially when the surrogate himself may be subject to criticism), but it is a good skill for him to have. And it seems that the McCain camp wants to make sure whomever they pick has that talent in his repertoire.