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How Well-known Is Mccain, Really?

Adam Nagourney and Jeff Zeleny have an interesting piece today tracing out the contours of Obama's general-election plan. This nugget is particularly intriguing:

To counter persistent rumors and mischaracterizations about his background, Mr. Obama’s advisers said they would also begin using television advertising and speeches in a biographical campaign to present his story on his terms. But they suggested that their research had found that voters were not that well acquainted with Mr. McCain, either, signaling that the next few months will see a scramble by the two campaigns to define the rival candidate.

“Even though Senator McCain has been on the scene for three decades, there are a lot of people who don’t know a lot about him — and there are a lot of people who don’t know about us,” said David Axelrod, Mr. Obama’s senior strategist. “Both campaigns are about to begin filling in the gaps.”

Obviously, one of McCain's great assets is his straight-talking-maverick-reformist brand. But if this is true,* and the McCain brand isn't nearly as familiar to most people as we in the political media assume, then Obama is going to do very, very well. It's much easier (and cheaper) to create an image on a blank slate than it is to replace an existing one. (That's true of both your own image and your opponent's.) And Obama was already going to enjoy a large financial advantage.

*Clearly this is a big if.

--Noam Scheiber