I think Chris Bowers is absolutely right - Paris Hilton's response to John McCain's celebrity ad has turned the tide of this race to a certain extent. Actually it occurred at a confluence of events: Obama calling McCain and his minions "proud to be ignorant" about car maintenance and fuel efficiency; Obama running a response ad to McCain's O.M. Origina Maverick (ya hear?) ad:
And then Paris pops up with a piece of video offering an objectively more substantive energy plan than McCain ever has. As Bowers says:
Hilton's response is now the top story on Google News, and apparently the McCain campaign is receiving so many media requests about it, that they had to post a response on their website. They have gotten into a spat with Paris Hilton, which there is basically no way to win. Hilton has nothing to lose, and the back and forth just highlights the frivolic idiocy of McCain's recent attacks.
She's also squeezed him to an extent. Hilton basically endorsed a compromise proposal (I can't believe I wrote that sentence) of limited drilling as a bridge to a green energy future. That's not true; the meager take from coastal drilling is not nearly enough to build that bridge. But in the political context, both candidates are actually agreeing with this, as it's laid out in the bipartisan "Gang of Ten" plan on energy in the Senate. It's a true compromise, and it includes eliminating tax breaks for oil companies and funneling that money into alternative energy research. That central plank of the Democratic Party agenda (it was part of 6 for '06) polls extremely well, in the 70% range. But McCain has already gone on the record against the Gang of 10 compromise:
A spokesman for Sen. McCain said that while he "applauds the bipartisan effort," he wouldn't support the proposal because "he cannot and will not support legislation that raises taxes."
Which opens up a huge gap for Obama to exploit, when everybody figures out that making oil companies rich(er) is McCain's only objective.
What's more, Obama's mockery on the tire gauge nonsense has forced McCain up against a wall on that score:
Predictably, Obama hit back calling McCain’s mockery “ignorant,” arguing his plans were being misrepresented and saying that experts backed his call over tire pressure. Equally predictably, McCain’s camp hit back.
The surprise came during a telephone town hall meeting McCain held on Tuesday with voters in Pennsylvania.
“Obama said a couple of days ago says we all should inflate our tires. I don’t disagree with that. The American Automobile Association strongly recommends it,” McCain said.
The dispute now rests on a lie that the tire pressure tip is Obama's entire energy plan, which has been dismissed as foolishness in just the right way ("it's like these guys are proud to be ignorant").
Finally, there's an extremely damaging A1 story in the Washington Post this morning that is the result of Obama's recent ads mentioning the $2 million McCain has collected from the oil companies since his change of heart on drilling. There's a throughline between the focus on lobbyists and oil companies and bundlers and donations and this story:
The bundle of $2,300 and $4,600 checks that poured into Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign on March 12 came from an unlikely group of California donors: a mechanic from D&D Auto Repair in Whittier, the manager of Rite Aid Pharmacy No. 5727, the 30-something owners of the Twilight Hookah Lounge in Fullerton.
But the man who gathered checks from them is no stranger to McCain -- he shuttled the Republican on his private plane and held a fundraising event for the candidate at his house in Delray Beach, Fla.
Harry Sargeant III, a former naval officer and the owner of an oil-trading company that recently inked defense contracts potentially worth more than $1 billion, is the archetype of a modern presidential money man. The law forbids high-level supporters from writing huge checks, but with help from friends in the Middle East and the former chief of the CIA's bin Laden unit -- who now serves as a consultant to his company -- Sargeant has raised more than $100,000 for three presidential candidates from a collection of ordinary people, several of whom professed little interest in the outcome of the election [...]
Earlier this week, McCain drew questions about more than $60,000 in donations that were made this year to the Republican National Committee and his campaign by an office manager with the Hess oil company and her husband, an Amtrak track foreman. In that case, the couple said they used their own money.
Some of the most prolific givers in Sargeant's network live in modest homes in Southern California's Inland Empire. Most had never given a political contribution before being contacted by Sargeant or his associates. Most said they have never voiced much interest in politics. And in several instances, they had never registered to vote. And yet, records show, some families have ponied up as much as $18,400 for various candidates between December and March.
Both Sargeant and the donors were vague when asked to explain how Sargeant persuaded them to give away so much money.
There's at the very least the impression of straw donations here, an appearance of impropriety. I know that McCain is not in control of his own campaign, but all the connections to Big Oil and shady lobbyists and curious donations ought to take its toll (though I think the media will be consumed with Paris today).
The tenor of this race, aided by events, has changed. McCain is on the defensive.