I have long ago stopped worrying about the massive activity gap that surrounds the two candidates for President. Obama is getting a lot more attention that McCain, but as we saw, with Wright, Ayers, and "bitter/cling," it's not invariably good attention.
It's probably not a wise use of the McCain campaign's time to try and dominate the news cycle and the public consciousness in the same way Obama does, but rather to ensure that in an election that can easily be summed up as Obama vs. Not Obama, Not Obama wins the narrative.
Politico captures this dynamic pretty well today, with John McCain's invisibility stacked up against Barack Obama's cultural ubiquity:
"There has never been a major party candidate less relevant in an election than John McCain," said Democratic strategist James Carville. "It's all about Obama."
Longtime Democratic consultant Doug Schoen said that for many voters questions about Obama’s identity, faith and patriotism are metaphors for a broader doubt and uncertainty about somebody who, until four years ago, was an unknown even in much of the political community.
“It's Obama against Obama—and Obama’s narrowly winning,’ Schoen said. “He’s only five points ahead running against a shadow when he should be up 15.”
“If he's acceptable, he's president. It’s that simple.”
This means a few things. First off, the RNC should be making the Democratic Primary their targeting map for the fall. John McCain's relative strengths and weaknesses with various segments of the electorate will matter little. They will be subsumed by attitudes towards Obama. Ironically, McCain's pattern of relative support across the country may be just as if not more conservative than George W. Bush's, despite his long-standing issues with the conservative base. Everything will be purely a reaction to Obama. McCain will get what cultural conservatives are left in the Democratic Party, and Obama will get more of the transplanted exurbanites who handed Bush victories in places like Loudoun County, Virginia.
The 2008 election will polarize around Obama in the same way that 2004 polarized around Bush. That's because Obama is a cultural icon. But so are Tom Cruise and Britney Spears. The danger to this celebrity strategy is that it's rendering Obama's trump card -- partisan contrast and "Bush's third term" -- irrelevant. Once someone is knocked off a pedastal as high as Obama's is, the fall is so hard that it doesn't matter that "the other guy is worse."