(Analysis) By claiming that Democrat Barack Obama is "palling around with terrorists" and doesn't see the U.S. like other Americans, vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin targeted key goals for a faltering campaign.
And though she may have scored a political hit each time, her attack was unsubstantiated and carried a racially tinged subtext that John McCain himself may come to regret.
First, Palin's attack shows that her energetic debate with rival Joe Biden may be just the beginning, not the end, of a sharpened role in the battle to win the presidency.
"Our opponent ... is someone who sees America, it seems, as being so imperfect, imperfect enough, that he's palling around with terrorists who would target their own country," Palin told a group of donors in Englewood, Colo. A deliberate attempt to smear Obama, McCain's ticket-mate echoed the line at three separate events Saturday.
"This is not a man who sees America like you and I see America," she said. "We see America as a force of good in this world. We see an America of exceptionalism."
[Palin hit back at the AP today: "The Associated Press is wrong. The comments are about an association that has been known but hasn't been talked about and I think its fair to talk about where Barack Obama kicked off his political career, in the guy's living room. And he of course, having been associated with that group, a known domestic terrorist group, it's important for Americans to know. Its really important for Americans to start knowing who the real Barack Obama is."]
Obama isn't above attacking McCain's character with loaded words, releasing an ad on Sunday that calls the Arizona Republican "erratic" -- a hard-to miss suggestion that McCain's age, 72, might be an issue.
"Our financial system in turmoil," an announcer says in Obama's new ad. "And John McCain? Erratic in a crisis. Out of touch on the economy."
A harsh and plainly partisan judgment, certainly, but not on the level of suggesting that a fellow senator is un-American and even a friend of terrorists.Story continues below
In her character attack, Palin questions Obama's association with William Ayers, a member of the Vietnam-era Weather Underground. Her reference was exaggerated at best if not outright false. No evidence shows they were "pals" or even close when they worked on community boards years ago and Ayers hosted a political event for Obama early in his career.
Obama, who was a child when the Weathermen were planting bombs, has denounced Ayers' radical views and actions.
With her criticism, Palin is taking on the running mate's traditional role of attacker, said Rich Galen, a Republican strategist.
"There appears to be a newfound sense of confidence in Sarah Palin as a candidate, given her performance the other night," Galen said. "I think that they are comfortable enough with her now that she's got the standing with the electorate to take off after Obama."
Second, Palin's incendiary charge draws media and voter attention away from the worsening economy. It also comes after McCain supported a pork-laden Wall Street bailout plan in spite of conservative anger and his own misgivings. …