In a testament to the magnitude of John McCain's "houses" gaffe, the story has managed to briefly overshadow the veepstakes, even as Barack Obama's announcement looms and some reports have John McCain settling on Mitt Romney. The actual number of houses McCain owns is apparently as cloudy as Jose Canseco's pool-party guest list — ABC News now concludes that it's ten homes on eight properties; USA Today says a dozen properties. But the McCain campaign obviously won't take this lying down; it counterattacked before long with an ad about Obama's (one) house and its ties to convicted felon Tony Rezko. So now it seems an all-out dirty war is upon us. Makes those days of endless squabbles over health-care mandates seem quaint.
• Jonathan Weisman and Robert Barnes report that "the Democratic National Committee was threatening to escalate the fight further by highlighting McCain's connections to the 'Keating Five' savings and loan scandal." "They go Rezko, we go Keating," one anonymous Democratic strategist said. "If they want to escalate, bring it on." [WP]
• John Dickerson laments that we've "officially reached the 'all's fair' stage of the campaign." McCain "responded so violently because the attack is potentially devastating in an election that is likely to be all about economic issues," but "Obama's brand" could be damaged if he engages in "politics as usual." [Slate]
• Marc Ambinder writes that "[t]hough McCain is widely perceived to have drawn first blood by attacking Obama's character," a McCain campaign official "said that the decision to go Rezko was Obama's. 'He's opened the door to this,' the official said." [Atlantic]
• Jennifer Rubin suspects that "the McCain camp is delighted to have" this fight with Obama because "they can force the mainstream media to cover the Obama-Rezko connection and the very topics, such as the Mayor Daley and Bill Ayers associations, which are prime subjects in the recently released anti-Obama books." [Contentions/Commentary]
• Mark Silva thinks that it's "clear, in the speed with which the McCain camp has offered this rebuttal on the housing front," that the Rezko ad "was 'in the can.''" [Swamp/Chicago Tribune]
• Steve Benen finds the McCain campaign's claims that Obama was attacking Cindy McCain with the housing gaffe "very odd, even by McCain standards." How is "[m]ocking McCain for not knowing how many homes he owns, and tying this together with McCain's bizarre economic agenda" an attack on Cindy? [Political Animal/Washington Monthly]
• Michael Crowley isn't sure that either candidate's attacks will work because they don't "reinforce things that people already intuitively believe." Not many people think of McCain as an "upper-class twit," and "Obama doesnt seem the least bit shady or ethically compromised." Consequently, "imperious millionaire and corrupt hack are just not the narratives I see sticking." [Stump/New Republic]
• Taylor Marsh claims "Obama's ad was one of the best of the season," and McCain's was "one of the worst": "Clearly rushed, with ominous drum hits and unpleasant narration … this ad is laughable." [Taylor Marsh]
• Chuck Todd and friends are wowed by "one of the harshest exchanges to date on the campaign trail." The McCain campaign was clearly "spooked as they unloaded their Rezko/Ayres oppo in one-fell swoop," which "was probably off the schedule they had in their heads about when they'd unveil these various hits." [First Read/MSNBC]
For a complete and regularly updated guide to presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain — from First Love to Most Embarrassing Gaffe — read the 2008 Electopedia.