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Who Benefits From Campaign Distractions?

I think the normally spot-on First Read is a little off in its implication here:

*** The A.D.D Election: It’s another whiplash week. It's amazing how many Fridays we look back at the week and just shake our head... This really is turning into the A.D.D. election. Here’s the week that was… in reverse order… Phil Gramm's “mental” comments (btw, isn't "mental" such an '80s word?), Jesse Jackson “nut”-ty remarks, Iran’s missile tests (and that McCain “killing them” joke), FISA (Obama’s reversal and Clinton voting against it -- so did Biden, by the way), Clinton donors not happy with Obama’s debt relief efforts (and Obama briefly forgetting to mention the former rival at a joint funder), that McCain bio spot invoking the culture wars of the 1960s, the scrutiny of the candidates’ economic plans, more courting Latinos, Webb off the veep list, Carly Fiorina's Viagra/birth control comment, the T. Boone Pickens energy ad launch, the RNC energy ad and the first Obama response of the general election, and, of course, we started the week with Obama announcing he was moving the last night of the Dem convention to a football stadium. Whew. It's no wonder neither candidate has been successful at taking one of their "insert issue here" weeks from start to finish. There are just an incredible amount of distractions even during a supposed slow period like this one in July. ... But seriously, can either of these candidates get the message THEY want out there for even a 48 hour period? Calling you, Wes Clark, Phil Gramm. 

It's clearly frustrating for both campaigns that they can't push their respective messages amid all these distractions. On the other hand, elections are a zero-sum game. If the Obama and McCain camps were to trade equally damaging distractions every day from now until November 4, the effect wouldn't be neutral. You'd have to say it helps Obama. Anything that doesn't change the underlying dynamic of the race--like offsetting distractions--probably helps the guy who's winning.

By the same token, if you believe that this week's distractions were equally damaging, then you'd have to say the week was a win for Obama. (I personally don't put much stock in "winning weeks." But that's how you'd have to score it if you do. Also, I don't think this week's distractions are equally costly. Gramm's is hands down the worst, and it's effects will probably linger the longest.)

Having said all that, First Read makes a great point about McCain's dubious allusion to the Pittsburgh Steelers defensive line:

*** Speaking of gaffes…: Imagine if Al Gore or John Kerry had changed the facts of a story they told forever in order to appeal to whatever swing state they were speaking in? John McCain is getting killed on Steeler fan forums for claiming that when he was a P.O.W. he would tell his interrogators the names of the starting defensive line of the Steelers. The actual story in his book had to do with Green Bay Packers offensive line. Also, the famous Steelers defensive line that McCain was trying to refer to (Mean Joe, L.C. etc.) didn't become famous until after McCain was out of Vietnam. The actual Steelers front four McCain could have referred to, according to one the Steeler fan forum that is crushing McCain on this comment today: "When McCain became a prisoner of war, the Steelers front four consisted of Ken Kortas, Chuck Hinton, Ben McGee and Lloyd Voss." Not exactly household names. And while we’re sure McCain’s a big time NFL fan and was in the ‘60s, there’s little chance he knew the front four of the then perennial doormat Pittsburgh Steelers. (Irony alert: McCain is in Wisconsin today, where no doubt the story would change before Cheeseheads.)

No question this would have been deadly for Gore or Kerry.

--Noam Scheiber