Just in case two MoJo liveblogs left you wanting even more microscopic coverage of Blinky McCain's excruciating plumber remarks, check out MoJo managing editor Elizabeth Gettelman's and my Tweets on tonight's debate, here and here. It's as off the cuff and detailed as you can get in 144 characters per Tweet (what can I say, we're experimenting with Twitter).

Here's a sample, the rest is on Twitter (first Tweet at the bottom):

LM_MOJO that's it. forget Rosie the Riveter. it's Josephine the Plumber time. #current about 3 hours ago from Election 2008

eg_mojo What about Josephine the Plumber, do you speak for her McCain? about 3 hours ago from Election 2008

eg_mojo Joe the Plumber is no Lilly Ledbetter. about 3 hours ago from Election 2008

LM_MOJO on Roe v Wade: Obama brings the Harvard Law down on McCain about 3 hours ago from Election 2008

eg_mojo McCain doesn't support equal pay for equal work! about 3 hours ago from Election 2008

eg_mojo Abortion a difficult, moral issue. Obama says WOMEN make the decision, not the STATES about 3 hours ago from Election 2008

Here's why John McCain knew about Joe Wurzelbacher, now known to the world as Joe the plumber, in tonight's debate: Joe was interviewed on Fox News Tuesday. He doesn't much care for Barack Obama's tax plan and is already a mini-celebrity on the right-wing blogs. Here's the video:

Hello internet! Nick and I are back with another liveblog — sadly, it's likely our last until election day. Tonight's key questions:

(1) Does McCain raise Ayers? If so, does he find a way to do it without crippling his reformer image and without making it appear he lacks the necessary focus on the economy?

(2) Will moderator Bob Schieffer ask John McCain about a report that broke this afternoon detailing cell phone towers the McCains had installed at their ranch (free of cost) by telecom companies under McCain's jurisdiction on the Senate Commerce Committee?

(3) Will the Dodgers or the Phillies prevail in sunny Los Angeles? Current score: Phillies 1, Dodgers 0. Ichabod Crane Cole Hamels is on the hill for Philadelphia.

Here we go...

8:58: Chris Matthews, wearing a sweater, is talking about how the candidates can persuade male voters by appealing to men's need to provide for their wives and children. He admits that this is an old-fashioned view of the American family.

9:04: McCain says Americans are hurt and angry. And they want this country to go in a new direction. I think he has to go stronger. I think he needs to break with the last eight years of Republican leadership cleanly and clearly. He adds that the catalyst of the economic crisis was Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

9:06: Obama recites the new economic policies he unveiled Monday. You can see them here.

9:08: John McCain somehow knows Barack Obama's plumber friend named Joe, who wants to run a small business. He actually calls the guy "Joe the plumber."

9:10: Now Obama calls this guy "Joe the plumber." Officially the most famous pipe cleaner in America.

Tonight's debate on domestic policy will give the presidential candidates an opportunity to address a major domestic issue that hasn't received much attention from either campaign: Our country's skyrocketing incarceration rate and the sentencing policies, particularly for nonviolent offenders, that have contributed to it.

We've heard surprisingly little on this issue, considering Obama's legislative work on death penalty reform and Biden's nearly three decades of tough-on-crime cred (he created the job of "drug czar" during the Reagan administration and wrote the legislation imposing mandatory minimum sentences for possession of crack cocaine, a law he finally moved to overturn earlier this year). McCain's website indicates he supports more enforcement and stricter sentencing, but the details are vague.

The economy will likely trump all other domestic policy items tonight, but that's no excuse to ignore criminal justice in light of the quasi-recession. Cash-strapped states started rethinking their incarceration policies even before credit dried up. Now that they can't even get the money they need for regular municipal operations, maybe it's time to rethink them again.

Free the Debates!

What do Arianna Huffington, the founders of Craigslist and Wikipedia, Kos, the big wigs of MoveOn.org, the co-founder of RedState.org, and a number of internet pioneers all have in common? They are all part of something call the Open Debate Coalition, a group of folks left, right, and center who want to see the presidential debates and the commission that organizes them fundamentally reformed.

The Open Debate Coalition has three primary objectives: (1) Make raw footage of the debates part of the public domain, so that journalists, bloggers, and citizens can access it without concerns about a major network slamming them with a copyright suit. (2) Allow citizens to vote for questions in advance using the internet, so that town halls aren't conducted at the whim of a moderator. And (3) reform or replace the Commission on Presidential Debates, a group which declines to make information on its funders public and has not released the debate rules to which both presidential campaigns have reportedly agreed.

This is not a commission that holds itself to iron-clad ethics rules. Anheuser-Busch has sponsored the presidential debates in every cycle since 1996 — as a result, its hometown, St. Louis, has hosted at least one debate in all but one of the last five presidential elections. Reports the Center for Public Integrity, "For its $550,000 contribution in 2000, the beer company was permitted to distribute pamphlets against taxes on beer at the event."

While seeking sunlight is never easy, the Open Debate Coalition would be excused for thinking they have an ace up their sleeve: the support of presidential contenders Barack Obama and John McCain. Both candidates have written letters (here's Obama's; here's McCain's) expressing support for the coalition's ideals.

So far, no luck. But the members of the coalition aren't giving up — they see a future where debates bear no resemblance to the ones we have today, which, should anyone need reminding, are essentially identical to the ones held between presidential candidates 25 years ago. "2008 will likely be the last year that the Commission on Presidential Debates will exist as we know it," Adam Green, Director of Strategic Campaigns for MoveOn.org Political Action, told me. "In the future, voters will demand interactions with the candidates that are democratic, transparent, and accountable to the public."

Or, as Andrew Rasiej, founder of Personal Democracy Forum, told the Washington Post: "Hopefully, comparing the 2012 debates to those of 2008 will be like comparing a 5th generation iPhone to a bullhorn."

I discussed ways McCain might get back in the race below, but if this report is to be believed, it's a lost cause. These were the reactions a Republican consultant got from blue collar types in the upper Midwest after showing them the nastiest possible anti-Obama ads:

54 year-old white male, voted Kerry '04, Bush '00, Dole '96, hunter, NASCAR fan...hard for Obama said: "I'm gonna hate him the minute I vote for him. He's gonna be a bad president. But I won't ever vote for another god-damn Republican. I want the government to take over all of Wall Street and bankers and the car companies and Wal-Mart run this county like we used to when Reagan was President."
The next was a woman, late 50s, Democrat but strongly pro-life. Loved B. and H. Clinton, loved Bush in 2000. "Well, I don't know much about this terrorist group Barack used to be in with that Weather guy but I'm sick of paying for health insurance at work and that's why I'm supporting Barack."

The consultant, who gave this account to Ben Smith over at Politico, called it "the two most unreal moments of my professional life of watching focus groups."

Back when Obama bought an entire channel on the Dish Network, I wondered if his campaign has too much money on its hands. I think it's safe to say the answer is yes.


I think bloggers/journalists/pundits giving campaigns advice is a bad and unproductive little habit, but my posts today about how raising Ayers won't get McCain back in the race has got me thinking about what will.

Just to be clear, I think McCain going after Obama's associations is a choice fraught with as much danger for McCain as for Obama. (See the last two posts for why.) So what can McCain do instead? He can paraphrase Bill Clinton and label himself "a new kind of Republican." He can slam Bush. He can denounce the way the country has been run for the last eight years by a Republican White House and, for the most part, a Republican Congress. In short, he can capitalize on the disastrous condition of the Republican brand, instead of suffering from it.

And he can match this rhetorical move to the center with policies that, in most cases, stay solidly to the right. (In a way, he would mirror Obama.) As a result, he has a good chance of retaining the Republican base and an improved chance of swaying independents. Does this path guarantee victory for McCain? Of course not, but it's a lot better than his current strategy, which is... what exactly?

And I have to point out that had McCain pursued this strategy from the beginning, it would have been awfully tough for Obama to tie McCain to Bush as successfully as he has. Would it have depressed turnout somewhat among hardcore Republicans? Sure. But look where a half-hearted attempt to play to the base has gotten him so far.

Making attacks on Ayers a centerpiece of McCain's campaign signals the intellectual bankruptcy of the conservative movement he purports to lead. The conservative David Frum, writing about a week ago:

We conservatives are sending a powerful, inadvertent message with this negative campaign against Barack Obama's associations and former associations: that we lack a positive agenda of our own and that we don't care about the economic issues that are worrying American voters.

And besides, it won't work.

Republicans used negative campaigning successfully against Michael Dukakis and John Kerry, it's true. But 1988 and 2004 were both years of economic expansion, pro-incumbent years. 2008 is like 1992, only worse. If we couldn't beat Clinton in 1992 by pointing to his own personal draft-dodging and his own personal womanizing, how do we expect to defeat Obama in a much more anti-incumbent year by attacking the misconduct of people with whom he once kept company (but doesn't any more)?

It's well known that John McCain has promised to "whip [Obama's] you-know-what" in tonight's debate, in part by bringing up William Ayers.

But there are a number of problems with raising Ayers tonight in New York. I'll let Noam Scheiber explain:

If McCain goes that route, doesn't that mean he's mostly wasted the last several days, when he and Palin have substantially toned down their Ayers rhetoric? (Days he can hardly afford to waste, I might add.) It seems strange to pursue one strategy in the days leading up to a debate, then another strategy during the debate--particularly when the strategies are contradictory....
[But] if McCain doesn't mention Ayers tonight, he's going to get hammered in the press for making empty threats (cue the erratic meme) and essentially wimping out.

This has been about as haphazard as any media messaging strategy could be. And I'll add that by letting Obama and his debate prep staff know in advance that he plans to raise the Ayers attack, McCain gave them the opportunity to prepare a response. I suspect it'll go something like, My opponent wants to continue the old tired politics of guilt by association. I want to talk about how we're gonna fix this economy.

How does McCain come out a winner here? I just don't see it.

Update: Check back tonight for a debate live-blog. Here's an example of how we roll, so you know what to expect.