A little late for the high ground

A LITTLE LATE FOR THE HIGH GROUND…. A new CBS News poll found the two major-party presidential candidates moving in different directions. At this point, Barack Obama’s favorability rating, now up to 48%, is the highest it’s ever been. The number of voters who have an unfavorable view of John McCain, meanwhile, is up to 42% — the highest it’s been since McCain began his first presidential campaign in 1999.

With that in mind, it makes sense for McCain to try to dig himself out of the gutter and position himself as above the fray.

In this new ad, which the campaign says will air nationally, McCain, speaking directly to the camera, says, “What a week. Democrats blamed Republicans, Republicans blamed Democrats. We’re the United States of America. It shouldn’t take a crisis to pull us together. We need a President who can avert crisis. Put people back to work. Grow our economy. And move people from surviving to thriving. We need leadership without painful new taxes. That will make our country strong again.”

As McCain ads go, at least stylistically, this really isn’t bad. He’s not reading the cue cards very well, but with his popularity sinking, it makes sense for McCain to at least try to strike a nonpartisan tone. Obama delivered a very similar message last week, which this ad borrows from almost word for word, but most voters won’t know that.

But substantively, the ad is a mess. While McCain dismisses finger-pointing in the ad, his campaign has spent every waking moment finger-pointing. Indeed, McCain went on several networks this morning for the express purpose of attacking Obama.

The underlying idea of the ad is a good one, helping bolster McCain’s tarnished and deflated brand. But until the campaign can come up with a way of doing this while also making sense, it’s going to be tough to get back on track.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.