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Sen. Barack Obama plans to intensify his assault against Sen. John McCain, with new television advertisements and more forceful attacks, as he confronts an invigorated Republican presidential ticket and increasing nervousness in the Democratic ranks.
McCain's choice of Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate and the resulting jolt of energy among Republican voters appear to have caught Obama and his advisers by surprise and added to concern among some Democrats that the Obama campaign was not pushing back hard enough against Republican attacks.
After back-to-back attack ads by McCain, including one that misleadingly accused Obama of endorsing sex education for kindergarten students, the Obama campaign is planning to sharpen attacks on McCain and Palin in an effort to counter McCain's attempt to present himself as the candidate of change with his choice of Palin.
'We have a game plan'
The new tone is to be presented in a speech by Obama in New Hampshire and backed up by new television advertisements and appearances across the country by supporters.
In addition, advertising themes will feature pay equity for women, an issue that has particular resonance as the campaigns battle for female voters, and a more pointed linking of McCain to President Bush and Republicans in Washington.
But Obama's aides said they were confident with the course of the campaign. They said that, other than making some shifts around the edges, particularly in response to McCain's effort to seize the change issue from Obama, they were not planning any major deviation from a strategy that called for a steady escalation of attacks on McCain as the race heads toward the debates.
"We're sensitive to the fluid dynamics of the campaign, but we have a game plan and a strategy," said Obama's campaign manager, David Plouffe. "We're familiar with this. And I'm sure between now and Nov. 4 there will be another period of hand-wringing and bed-wetting. It comes with the territory."
Still, Democrats outside the campaign suggested that Obama should be viewing the situation with a greater sense of urgency. "The Obama message has been disrupted in the last week," said Rep. Artur Davis, D-Ala. "It's a time for Democrats to focus on what the fundamentals are in this election."
Phil Singer, who served as a press secretary for Hillary Rodham Clinton in her primary campaign against Obama, said, "The Obama people need to reboot and figure out ways to make the McCain-Bush argument newsworthy again."
A defining event
The uneasiness among Democrats is the result of a confluence of factors in the week since McCain accepted his party's nomination in St. Paul. The selection of Palin became the defining event of McCain's convention, revving up his conservative base and drawing the spotlight away from Obama.
And McCain's increasingly aggressive campaign has sought to put Obama on the defensive during each news cycle, using any development at hand, like Obama's colloquial comment this week about putting "lipstick on a pig," to keep attention away from Democratic messages about the economy and the similarities between McCain and Bush.