"I have more temper in my little finger..."
It is a testament to how badly the McCain brand has eroded that the town hall meeting is no longer the right format for the message the candidate wants to deliver. The town hall involves taking questions straight from audience members and provides the candidates with the opportunity to connect with voters while flitting from subject to subject with speed (which can cover for a lack of deep understanding of an issue). These events have been rightly considered McCain’s best format.
But a town hall is the wrong place for character assassination, which, like its mortal cousin, is best done by a third-party, or at least at a distance. There has been a great deal of discussion lately about McCain’s unhappiness with the campaign that he’s been ‘forced’ to run. Had he run the change-oriented campaign of town halls and site visits to poverty-stricken areas that he supposedly originally wanted – essentially, the McCain 2000 campaign all over again – tonight’s debate would have been the climax, his chance to shine against the more formal, ‘aloof’ Obama (a fairly experienced hand at town halls, having done 39 in his first year in the Senate, but a better podium debater and orator).
Instead, McCain has been driven so far from his brand and his game-plan that what should have been his strongest event of the campaign is now an unwelcome deviation from the message he’s trying to get across, which is that this Obama character can’t be trusted. In an indication of how counter-intuitive his strategy (or lack thereof) has become, McCain’s being forced off-message tonight might be his best hope of getting on track, as he might actually have to spend 90 minutes trying to persuade the voters of Pennsylvania (and elsewhere, of course, but PA is the crux) that he’s the man to save the country.