By Steve Holland
US Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) waves as he leaves 10 Downing Street in London, July 26, 2008.
AURORA, Colo. (Reuters) – Republican presidential candidate John McCain opened up a new line of attack on Democratic rival Barack Obama on Wednesday, labeling him a celebrity without the strength to bring change to Washington.
McCain’s campaign launched a new television advertisement to run in key battleground states called “Celeb” that uses images of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton and Obama’s speech in Berlin last week to accuse Obama of being all talk and little action.
“Is he ready to lead?” it asks.
At the same time, McCain described himself as an independent-minded politician with a history of bucking authority and said Obama has shown little more than strong speaking skills.
“The bottom line is that Senator Obama’s words, for all their eloquence and passion, don’t mean all that much, and that’s the problem with Washington,” McCain said.
McCain took direct aim at Obama’s chief selling point, that he represents change Americans are searching for ahead of the November 4 election.
“Sen. Obama doesn’t have the strength to speak openly and directly about he will address the serious challenges that confront America. How will he be strong enough to really change Washington?” he said.
McCain’s negative turn came as his campaign senses a chink in Obama’s armor following the Democrat’s European tour, which did not appear to give Obama a noticeable bounce in the polls, despite drawing a crowd of 200,000 in Berlin.
It is a strategy that carries some risks with Americans weary of partisan sniping. The Obama campaign has said stepped-up criticism from McCain as not in keeping with his pledges to maintain a civil debate.
“On a day when major news organizations across the country are taking Senator McCain to task for a steady stream of false, negative attacks, his campaign has launched yet another. Or, as some might say, ‘Oops! He did it again,”’ said Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor.
But the McCain camp, frustrated by what it sees as a U.S. news media’s lavish attention on Obama, said it considered the Democrat’s Europe trip fair game.
Campaign manager Rick Davis told reporters on a conference call that Obama’s swing through Europe, with its focus on media, was “much more something you would expect from someone releasing a new movie than running for president.”
“And so I think it’s fair game to say that we’re only focused on representing what we see as an important element of the Obama strategy, which is to create a fan base around the world that allows him to get a lot of media attention and avoids him having to address the important issues of our time,” Davis said.
The McCain camp eagerly directed reporters to an opinion article in The Washington Post that described Obama as acting as if he were already president.
McCain, 71, took pains to promote his own record, saying he had often found himself at odds with the unpopular administration of President George W. Bush, particularly on government spending and the Iraq war.
The latest energy bill in the U.S. Congress, he said, includes “big giveaways to Big Oil but nothing” to free American from its dependence on foreign oil.
“Time and again, I’ve heard politicians, pundits and pollsters warn me that my position on this or that issue would cost me the presidency. But I don’t answer to them,” he said.
(Additional reporting by David Alexander; editing by David Wiessler)