After a one-week hiatus, the John McCain campaign resumed its regular blog conference calls this morning. The team has a new ad out and a new focus on the general election, and the campaign wanted to focus on his upcoming “Service to America tour”. Steve Schmidt and Jill Hazelbaker emphasized the importance of the blogosphere in communicating themes to voters, and this is a major theme for the McCain campaign — especially the emphasis on service. Schmidt insisted that the campaign would focus more on the future than the past. They promised humor and self-deprecation in his accounts of his life, perhaps a slap at the messiah complex at play in the Obama camp and the self-aggrandizing lies of Hillary Clinton.

Apparently, the candidate himself was not available today, which made the first part of the call less valuable. Schmidt wound up reading to us from a schedule and a press release; it would have made more sense just to send it to us. He wanted to give us a scoop by reading some advance quotes of the upcoming speeches, but he spoke too quickly for us to use any of it.

He did better explaining the themes himself. Schmidt talked about this as a “formal introduction” process, and promised an engagement on character and biography as well as experience. The first question seized on that, asking about Barack Obama’s association with Jeremiah Wright and the choice of Tony McPeak as a military advisor. “You have never had a situation where two Presidential candidates refuse to acknowledge the reality of the enemy’s intentions,” Schmidt responded. He called McPeak’s statements “disturbing”, and Obama’s statements on Iraq an example of the difference between his rhetoric and his actions.

  • Hugh Hewitt asked about specifics on promises to expand the military. Schmidt wants to allow McCain to give the specifics, including anything on the Navy.
  • John Hawkins asked my question about the SAVE Act, whether McCain is blocking its passage. Schmidt said Shuler may have “had one too many encounters with a linebacker”, and that his accusations are “false”.
  • Me: Will McCain address the issue of Juan Hernandez on his campaign? Schmidt says that anyone on the campaign supports McCain’s view, not the other way around. When I challenged him on his point regarding McPeak, which assumes the opposite, he said that Obama’s positions will be what the American public evaluate. Schmidt says that the GOP have rallied behind McCain and that his positions on immigration “could not be clearer”.
  • Jennifer Rubin on Obama’s views on taxes — will they be addressing them? Schmidt says that McCain will be talking extensively about the economy. “Barack Obama at his core believes that the rich in this country includes anyone making over $75,000 per year.” These are working families, struggling to pay mortgages and paying for college for their children. Tax increases would have a disastrous effect on the economy.
  • Doug Lambert wonders whether the team will go for a series of Lincoln-Douglas debates instead of the normal quiz-show format. Schmidt says that McCain wants a substantive debate on issues, but that Obama avoids talking about the issues and sticks with distortions and personal attacks.

Schmidt did a good job handling the questions. Even without McCain, the dialogue is good for both the bloggers and the campaign, keeping everyone sharp. I’d like to see McCain add some conservatives to his advisers on immigration for balance and to give everyone a little more confidence in his approach to border security, and I think having Hernandez on the campaign detracts from McCain’s attack on McPeak.

However, Schmidt is correct in saying that everyone understands McCain’s policy positions on immigration, and that his track record is open and obvious, while Obama’s positions on military and foreign policy are anything but. Also, one should note that Hernandez is an unpaid volunteer; McPeak has an official position with the Obama campaign, one Obama desperately needs for credibility on military matters.

Update: The reference to “one too many hits” was made about Shuler by Schmidt, but my construction was poor. I’ve corrected it now.

Update II: Amanda Carpenter gives us a thumb’s up.