Senior Republicans break ranks with John McCain
Senior members of the Republican party are in open mutiny against John McCain's presidential campaign, after a disastrous period which has seen Barack Obama solidify his lead in the opinion polls.
And as disputes raged within the McCain camp yesterday, Democrats took another symbolic step towards healing the party after their bitter primary battles, as Bill and Hillary Clinton made their first joint appearance in support of Mr Obama.
From inside and outside his inner circle, Mr McCain is being told to settle on a coherent economic message and to tone down attacks on his rival which have sometimes whipped up a mob-like atmosphere at Republican rallies.
Two former rivals for the party nomination, Mitt Romney and Tommy Thompson, went on the record over the weekend about the disarray in the Republican camp. And a string of other senior party figures said Mr McCain's erratic performance risks taking the party down to heavy losses not just in the presidential race but also in contests for Congressional seats. Mr Thompson, a former governor of the swing state of Wisconsin, said he thought Mr McCain, on his present trajectory, would lose the state, and he told a New York Times reporter he was not happy with the campaign. "I don't know who is," he added.
Some Republicans seeking election to Congress have begun distancing themselves from Mr McCain. In Nebraska, a Republican representative, Lee Terry, ran a newspaper ad featuring support from a woman who called herself an "Obama-Terry voter".
The McCain camp was reportedly considering launching a new set of economic policies last night, on top of the plan for government purchases of mortgages which he unveiled in a surprise move at last week's presidential debate. Possible options include temporary tax cuts on capital gains and dividends. Mr Romney said he should "stand above the tactical alternatives that are being considered and establish an economic vision that is able to convince the American people that he really knows how to strengthen the economy".
With just over three weeks to go to election day, a new Reuters/Zogby tracking poll showed the Democratic candidate gaining momentum during the past week. From a two-point lead four days ago, the latest reading has Mr Obama up 6 points. A Gallup poll yesterday put him at plus-7 per cent.
The Clintons took to the stage yesterday in Scranton, a down-at-heel Pennsylvania town that has taken on outsize significance in the presidential election. The town, which has become symbolic of the decline of industrial America, was childhood home of Joe Biden, Mr Obama's vice-presidential running mate, and is where Hillary Clinton's father grew up and is buried.
"This is an all hands on deck election," Mrs Clinton declared, adding that only a Democrat could put the interests of struggling working families at the centre of policy. John McCain sees the middle class as "not fundamental, but ornamental," she said.
Her husband praised Mr Obama as having the best ideas, best instincts and best team for the White House. However, he focused most of his speech on his wife and Mr Biden, and quickly disappeared for a campaign appearance in Virginia, raising eyebrows among those who worry he has still not fully reconciled himself to the Obama candidacy and is still smarting from the bitter reaction against his contributions to the primary race.
McCain campaign staffers lashed out at the media for focusing on a minority of supporters at some rallies in the past week who have gone beyond booing and hissing at Mr Obama's name, and begun calling out "terrorist" and "kill him".
Senior Republicans have sharply conflicting views about the direction the McCain campaign should take, with some arguing that their candidate has not hit Mr Obama hard enough on the shady associates from his past. The issue of the Rev Jeremiah Wright, Mr Obama's former pastor, whose incendiary speeches about white racism almost derailed the Democrat's primary race, should be brought back on to the table by Mr McCain, many are counselling. Mr McCain, however, has ruled that issue off-limits, for fear of being accused of playing a race card.
The Republican candidate appeared keen to cool the temperature at rallies over the weekend, at one point snatching the microphone from a woman in Minnesota who declared Mr Obama was an "Arab". He chided her, and another man who said he was "scared" of an Obama presidency, and told a booing crowd to be respectful. "He is a decent family man, a citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues," said Mr McCain.
Reining in the party's supporters may be harder. A minister delivering the invocation at a rally on Saturday asked Christians to pray for a McCain win. "There are millions of people around this world praying to their god – whether it's Hindu, Buddha, Allah – that his opponent wins, for a variety of reasons," said Arnold Conrad, the former pastor of Grace Evangelical Free Church in Davenport. Those comments earned a rebuke from a McCain spokesman, and both sides this weekend had to slap down supporters for stirring issues of religion and race.
The Obama campaign disassociated itself from comments by Democratic congressman John Lewis who compared Mr McCain to the late Alabama segregationist George Wallace. "Senator McCain and Governor Palin are sowing the seeds of hatred and division," he said. "George Wallace never threw a bomb. He never fired a gun, but he created the climate and the conditions that encouraged vicious attacks against innocent Americans who were simply trying to exercise their constitutional rights."