As we reach the final few weeks of the election season, it’s time for the running mates to pick several key messages, stick to those messages and avoid any major gaffes. They both need to ramp up their enthusiasm, appeal to the bases and point out the major differences between the two campaigns. The campaign trail has been interesting, to say the least.

Joe Biden Strategy:

“Joe the Biden” has been focusing his campaign on McCain’s negative attacks. He continually tells Americans, “These attacks don’t hurt Barack Obama. They don’t hurt me. But they hurt the American people because they’re an attempt to distract you from the issues that matter to your daily lives.” He’s been put on the defense frequently, having to combat each new attack ad issued by the McCain camp. So a goof portion of Biden’s speeches must reach out to assuage the fears of people who still aren’t sure what to think about Barack Obama. He points out the contrast that the Obama-Biden ticket seeks to unify, not divide. Even so, he took a jab at Governor Palin this week when she fondly recalled visiting her favorite “pro-America” towns.

Secondly, it’s wise for Biden to portray John McCain as someone who is erratic, unsteady, out-of-touch and even desperate. “John seems a little more angry than he usually is,” Biden told Jay Leno this week. “John doesn’t seem comfortable right now.” He’s been focusing on the notion that McCain “has voted with Bush 90% of the time” and that McCain’s economic policies have changed almost daily. The more he can link McCain with Bush, the better for the Democratic base and on-the-fence Independents who are unhappy with “the last 8 years.” Biden contrasts McCain’s demeanor with Obama’s steadiness, economic plans to put more money in Main Street pockets (rather than in the bank’s pockets) and their largely positive campaign.

The third focus for Biden are those “working class pocketbook issues.” Joe wants to stress that their proposals will help the vast majority of the middle class by cutting taxes, offering low-cost health insurance, assisting with college tuition reimbursement plans, rewarding small businesses for hiring American workers, investing in American energy and providing instant relief to those who are struggling. “My lord, take a look at what – who got us in this hole, whose policies,” Biden said recently. “This has been a Republican philosophy of letting Wall Street do what they want and the middle class be damned. It’s about time we change it.”

Biden Missteps:

While he’s done many things right, there have been a few missteps. For one, he said “JOBS” was a three-letter word — which, while innocuous, was also just incredibly stupid.

He also has soured some Democrats by ripping on Joe the Plumber, saying, “I don’t know any plumbers where I come from who are making over $250,000 a year,” and further criticizing him for “not having a license,” which makes Joe the Biden wonder if Joe the Plumber is even a legitimate plumber at all! It does Biden no good whatsoever to question Joe the Plumber and belittle him. If his message is one about embracing the Middle Class and focusing on these delicate issues, then any contradictory tones or implications can make him seem like a condescending elitist pandering for votes.

One of the stranger comments he made on the campaign trail was when he said, “Mark my words, it will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy. The world is looking. We’re about to elect a brilliant 47-year-old senator president of the United States of America. Remember I said it standing here if you don’t remember anything else I said. Watch, we’re gonna have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy.” He added, “I can give you at least four or five scenarios from where it might originate — and he’s gonna need help. And the kind of help he’s gonna need is, he’s gonna need you – not financially to help him – we’re gonna need you to use your influence, your influence within the community, to stand with him. Because it’s not gonna be apparent initially, it’s not gonna be apparent that we’re right.”

Wait, WHAT?? Why is Joe Biden worrying about these hypotheticals, let alone expressing them out loud? Why is he trying to rally us to their side, when nothing has happened… in fact, they haven’t even won the election yet? Of course the McCain camp jumped on this bizarre statement as proof that Obama isn’t ready to lead. “We don’t want a president who invites testing from the world at a time when our economy is in crisis and Americans are already fighting in two wars,” McCain told voters. “What is more troubling is that Senator Biden told their campaign donors that when that crisis hits, they would have to stand with them because it wouldn’t be apparent Senator Obama would have the right response.”

Biden also commented that cleaning up the economic crisis will be like “cleaning the Augean stables, man.” It seems that it’s finally sinking in for Biden that their task at hand is Sisyphean, at best. He acknowledges that their administration will have to face the biggest challenges since Franklin D Roosevelt. “Anybody who thinks we’re going to be elected and all of a sudden the birds are going to start chirping … is wrong,” he added.

Palin Strategies:

Sarah Palin slapped Barack Obama with the “Socialism” label to warn voters of the direction her opponent may take the country. She tries to rally up her Reaganites and her “Pro-America” base at the rallies. One man went so far as to make a “Change for Obama” sticker with the Socialist symbol on it.”Now is no time to experiment with Socialism,” she told supporters in New Mexico. “Senator Obama said he wants to quote ‘spread the wealth.’ What that means is he wants government to take your money and dole it out however a politician sees fit.” She likes to contrast the two campaigns, emphasizing that Obama likes big government and spending the taxpayer’s money, while she feels government has been the problem and should just “get out of our way.” The case for small government is bound to rally that core Conservative base, so it’s not a surprising strategy.

She’s also focusing on taxes as a core difference between the two campaigns, tying this in to the McCain-Palin committment to the Middle Class. “Folks, in times like these, the last thing we need is a tax increase,” she said in New Hampshire. “I hear that here in Dover there’s home to two kinds of people: the fine people of New Hampshire and the fine people of Massachusetts who got sick of paying all those taxes.” Her point is strong, as many economists have also questioned Obama’s plan to raise taxes on anyone, even if it is just to the pre-Bush-tax-cut rate and only for the wealthiest 5% of America. Some fear that will prolong the suffering.

A third theme is energy. “I think Barack Obama was drilling for votes. I don’t think that he’s too keen on drilling for those source of energy that we need.” Her strategy is to point out flip-flops or inconsistencies in the Obama-Biden clean coal, drilling and energy plans.”Drill baby Drill” and “Mine baby Mine” have become catchy chants to get her supporters pumped up. It’s smart of her to play up her experience in energy and developing natural resources, since that’s part of her strength as Governor of Alaska.

Sarah Palin Missteps:

She was not without her bone-headed moments, though. She referred to Afghanistan as “our neighboring country of Afghanistan” and also was booed in Laconia, New Hampshire when she said, “I like being here because it seems like here and in our last rally too — other parts around this GREAT NORTHWEST — here in New Hampshire you just get it.” Oops!

The Obama-Biden campaign was all over her recent remark about “Pro-American areas.” She praised North Carolina this week, saying: “We believe that the best of America is in these small towns that we get to visit, and in these wonderful little pockets of what I call the real America, being here with all of you hard working very patriotic, um, very, um, pro-America areas of this great nation. This is where we find the kindness and the goodness and the courage of everyday Americans.” Her opponents criticized her, wondering which areas she deemed “un-American.” Joe Biden countered in New Mexico, “Ladies and gentlemen, I have never been to a state that hasn’t sent its sons and daughters to serve its country.”

Sarah Palin is working hard on her end to ramp up the attacks on Barack Obama’s patriotism and slam him with the dreaded “guilt by association.” At a campaign stop in Colorado, she charged, “This is not a man who sees America as you see it and how I see America. Our opponent though, is someone who sees America it seems as being so imperfect that he’s palling around with terrorists who would target their own country?”

These last few weeks, her supporters have been getting so riled up at her rallies, that they’ve yelled things like “Kill him” and “Terrorist!” She reminds voters to question Obama’s ties with William Ayers, Reverend Wright and ACORN. “I think it’s fair to talk about where Barack Obama kicked off his political career, in the guy’s living room,” she said of Ayers, which is a flimsy association at best. Some say this tactical move is working at working up the base as effectively as possible, while others say her negativity is only hurting the campaign. More and more, McCain has to repudiate voter fears that Barack is a terrorist at some of his rallies.

With just fifteen days remaining, the attacks are likely to get more heated, their nerves are likely to be more jangled and they will be tested further. It’s hard to say if people will switch their votes to McCain because they feel Joe Biden insulted Joe the Plumber, or if people will switch their votes to Obama because they dislike the tone of Palin’s rallies. A few people may be swayed by these shenanigans. What may hurt Palin more, though, are the questions raised about her ability to serve as President. With Colin Powell’s Obama-Biden endorsement this week and his concerns about Palin, she has a tough task ahead of her. Yet perhaps the fear of Obama’s “socialist-terrorist-secret” agenda may outweigh the fear of another dud in the White House.

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