You could imagine Barack Obama lying awake last night, frustrated by his dwindling momentum and tightening poll numbers, the worst rut his campaign has been in so far, just wishing, praying, that John McCain would commit some horrendous, game-changing gaffe. And then he probably woke up this morning, did a thousand push-ups as usual, made sweet love to Michelle, and was drinking a glass of raw eggs when a gleeful campaign aide burst through the door with the news: When the Politico asked McCain in an interview if he knew how many houses he himself owns, McCain replied, “I think — I’ll have my staff get to you. It’s condominiums where — I’ll have them get to you.” Traditionally, the politically expedient answer to such a question is a number, and preferably a low number at that, especially, of course, during a housing crisis, and — most crucially — if you’ve spent the last month mocking your opponent for being an elitist celebrity who is out of touch with America’s needs. When you have so many houses that you need your staff to look into it for you (the McCain campaign now says “at least four”; the Obama campaign says seven), those arguments might lose some steam.
Of course, the Democratic machine was called to arms faster than Vladamir Putin could invade a former Soviet republic. An ad featuring the comment was ready almost instantly, and Obama was hammering the point home at a campaign event in Virginia, tying it in to McCain’s pseudo-joke at Saddleback Church that you need $5 million to be considered rich. Furthermore, the campaign is “deploying high-profile surrogates in sixteen states across the country” to hold (somewhat gimmicky) “press conferences in front of homes to draw attention to the issue,” Jonathan Martin reports. In short, the Democrats think they have a political winner on their hands, and they won’t rest until the meme that “Out-of-touch John McCain doesn’t know how many houses he has” permeates the public’s consciousness. Sure, it’s not the most relevant issue, and most people should already realize that United States senators are almost uniformly wealthy (one of the poorest is Joe Biden … hmmm), but a perfect gaffe like this doesn’t come around too often. It’s the stuff dreams are made of.