Mud Monday: What on Earth Happened to the Presidential Race This Weekend?

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Were you planning on watching the debate tomorrow? Don't bother. All of the wildest punches between Barack Obama and John McCain are being landed today in stump speeches, surrogate appearances, and television ads. Over the weekend, a remarkable transformation occurred in the presidential race. It was revealed that McCain would ramp up his negative strategy against Obama, using 100 percent of his television budget on attack ads, largely focusing on Obama's relationship with Tony Rezko and former Weather Underground leader William Ayers. (They also released a smear ad about troop support today.) Sarah Palin took this a step further in public appearances, accusing Obama of "palling around with terrorists." She also raised the issue of Obama's former minister Reverend Jeremiah Wright, something McCain said he wouldn't do during the primary season. As Palin says, "the heels are on and the gloves are off!"

In response, Obama marshaled his own offensive strategy. He launched ads decrying McCain's negative personal strategy in the face of bigger problems like the economy, and also just now uploaded a "documentary" about John McCain's role in the "Keating Five" savings and loan debacle from the late eighties and early nineties. In a way, they're both in safe territory as they escalate the mudslinging at the same time, less than a month away from election day. But if this hurts everybody, who does it help?

• Mark Halperin thinks that "the important thing is to look at these arguments to see whether they have relevance." If McCain or Obama can't think of a reason (judgment, susceptibility to bad influences) to be making these arguments, then voters won't listen to them. [Time]

• Eric Kleefeld thinks it's not just McCain who is going to be going negative in the next few weeks, but that Obama will match him step for step, even after this initial flurry. [TPM]

• Noam Scheiber suggests that Obama would do best to emphasize how casual his acquaintance with Ayers was, rather than the rehabilitation or changes that Ayers might have gone through since his terrorist activities when Obama was a child. [New Republic]

• Howard Wolfson thinks that despite the negative attacks, the contest "is over." "Bill Ayers isn't going to save John McCain," he writes. [New Republic]

• Josh Marshall writes that it's about time the Obama camp brought up the Keating Five. [TPM]

• Jonah Goldberg just doesn't think William Ayers is that big of a deal anymore, and that if you listen to what he says he's clearly "put behind all of his goofy leftwing ideas." [Corner/National Review]

• Peter Robinson observes that the conservative base has been waiting for this opportunity to deliver some real punches, and that crowds respond like wild when Palin urges them to "tell people about the real Barack Obama." [National Review]

• Andrew Sullivan writes that what McCain needs to work on right now is his likability, and these attacks will only hurt that. [Atlantic]

• Nate Silver notes that as of mid-weekend, Obama's poll numbers were higher against McCain's than ever before. "Whether or not the McCain campaign's new round of attacks will have a significant impact on Obama's numbers we shall see," he observes. "But they're going to have to knock him off a fairly high pedestal." [538]