Way back in the day I was working on an underfunded campaign against a Republican incumbent with more money than could be wisely spend in an election. He mailed a 20-page(!) four-color flyer to every home in the district detailing the attacks against him so each could be explained. On the cover of this flyer was a photo of the Republican covered in mud rising out of a bucket of ooze.
I was thrilled. The cover was exactly the image I had wanted to send out in a one-sheet if we had only had the money. No one beyond a handful of political addicts were going to read the whole thing. The only image the voters were going to take was that cover which made him look hopelessly corrupt. The Republican had spent an ungodly amount of money doing our job for us.
On To McCain
I told that story to tell you this one. McCain has an ad running frequently during the Olympics. It starts by saying, "Washington’s broken. John McCain knows it. We’re worse off than we were four years ago.” while showing a black-and-white image of McCain. I love this ad.
Unless a television commercial is funny or has beautiful people in it, most viewers only pay attention until they get the basic message of the ad or until they can find the mute button. The first five seconds sells the basic message - "John McCain, we're worse off." The subliminal meaning of the black-and-white images reinforces the badness message. Except for political addicts, that is all most people are going to take from the ad.
So, McCain is paying good money to attach himself to a "things are horrible" message but few people are going to stick around for his "but I'm not responsible" defense. I love it. Couldn't have done better myself.