A gambling man

A GAMBLING MAN…. A couple of months ago, Michael Scherer and Michael Weisskopf wrote an interesting piece about the two presidential candidates’ gambling styles. They relayed an anecdote about John McCain, in the heat of the primary fight last year, wanting to head to a casino floor while campaigning in Las Vegas. His staff stopped him. McCain, undeterred, wanted the casino to bring a craps table to his private hotel room, but his staff, again, refused to allow it.

A Republican who has watched McCain gamble told Time, “He clearly knows that this is on the borderline of what is acceptable for him to be doing. And he just sort of revels in it.”

In the campaign, McCain’s recklessness has become increasingly obvious — picking Palin for the ticket, “suspending” his campaign — hoping that voters have no interest in electing a steady, unflappable leader with a cool head and reliable temperament. Obama has even made some effort to connect this to substantive issues, arguing that McCain’s penchant for gambling would lead to reckless public policies.

But as Steven Waldman noted this week, there’s a more specific audience that may find this discussion important.

Campaign Money Watch, a money-and-politics watchdog group, has begun running an ad about McCain’s connections to the gambling industry. The ad makes no mention of the moral dimensions of gambling. But behold where they have decided to run the ads: Lynchburg, Virginia, home of Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, and Tallahassee, Florida, a conservative part of the state — that’s right, evangelical-heavy areas in two battleground states.

“We knew that religious conservatives would be motivated by their concern about gambling,” explained David Donnelly, director of the group. “And you add to that their concern about campaign contributions. It’s a combustible mix.”

Now, Obama has never pushed this too aggressively, in part because being perceived as anti-gambling would be damaging in Nevada, a key swing state.

Regardless, with Campaign Money Watch’s ad on the air, might Christian conservatives in places like Lynchburg and Tallahassee care about McCain’s love for an activity — and close ties to an industry — they find immoral? Something to keep an eye on.

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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.