It’s not just the fact that Democrats will spend the next few months going at it that is likely to help John McCain, but the nature of the attacks Clinton and Obama are making against one another that can be used against either of them in the general. Clinton has been hitting Obama on his lack of preparedness (while she acknowledges McCain’s “lifetime of experience”), on Tony Rezko, and generally being all words and no substance. Meanwhile Obama strategist David Axelrod declared today, “The vetting of Hillary Clinton is just going to start.” The Obama campaign is going after Clinton for refusing to release her tax returns, and we may very well expect to see a reexploration of 1990s scandals that have been kept out of the Democratic contest so far. Recently responding to Clinton regarding Obama’s real estate dealings with Rezko, Axelrod said Clinton should be the last one “wanting to characterize any real estate transaction as unusual.” Given that Clinton and Obama surrogates all over the country will be echoing such charges as the protracted race goes on, by the time the fall rolls around, McCain’s ad producers will have a treasure trove of comments from top Democrats attacking whoever the nominee is.
What is important is that all of these attacks involve matters of experience and character–qualities that can actually have an effect on swing voters. By contrast, during the Republican primaries, the other candidates didn’t go after McCain for being dishonest or unprepared to be president, but for not being conservative enough. Those attacks, however, are not going to hurt him among swing voters in the general. For instance, in a race against Obama, having an ad of Cliton and other prominent Democrats questioning his readiness, would be damaging. But it’s hard to see Democrats running an ad featuring a clip of Mitt Romney charging McCain with supporting amnesty.