A sneak preview of John McCain's secret anti-Romney ad.

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
Dec. 28 2007 1:18 PM

Fighting Mitt With Mitt

A sneak preview of John McCain's secret anti-Romney ad.

On Thursday, Mitt Romney put up a television ad knocking John McCain for not supporting tax cuts and offering amnesty to illegal aliens. The ad asks "John McCain, an honorable man. But is he the right Republican for the future?" Now the McCain team is thinking about using Romney's own words (and campaign aides) to respond.

Taxes and immigration have nothing to do with the future, particularly, but the framing is a not-so-subtle jab at McCain's age. In his closing-argument stump speech, Romney is trying to identify himself with the future. ''No one votes for yesterday; they vote for tomorrow,'' Romney said Thursday in New Hampshire. ''Elections are about the future, the future of our families, the future of our country.''

The McCain team's response is that Romney has to talk about the future because he's spent much of the campaign running from his past. This may become more than a quip if the campaign decides to air the following television ad, which they've had on the shelf since the spring.

The ad hangs Romney with his own words—he advocates for a woman's right to choose and gun control, gets tongue tied on his own hunting practices, and distances himself from Ronald Reagan). What makes the ad particularly powerful for the McCain team, though, is that it was produced by media wizards who now work for Romney. Stuart Stevens and Russ Schriefer are veterans of the Bush campaign, which so effectively used John Kerry's words against him. They moved from Bush to McCain, but left and moved to Romney after the McCain operation imploded. When they were McCain guys, though, they helped put together this ad and pushed for running it, according to McCain aides and advisers. "Russ and Stuart were very animated in several meetings about attacking Romney," says a McCain ally. (Neither could be immediately reached for comment, either directly or through the campaign.)

After internal debate in the spring, McCain and his aides decided not to complete the final cut and run the ad (which is why the video does not have the candidate's voice). Back then, Romney was behind in the polls, McCain was ahead, and his aides thought this ad would elevate the challenger. "We decided it was an inappropriate time to run it so early in the process," says a top adviser who was involved. Maybe the timing is more appropriate now, from their point of view. Or, maybe now that they've leaked the ad to Slate, the cash-strapped campaign won't have to run it at all.

John Dickerson is Slate's chief political correspondent and author of On Her Trail. Read his series on the presidency and on risk.

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

Why Do Some People See the Virgin Mary in Grilled Cheese?

The science that explains the human need to find meaning in coincidences.

Jurisprudence

Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

What to Do if You Literally Get a Bug in Your Ear

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 17 2014 8:15 AM Ted Cruz Will Not Join a Protest of "The Death of Klinghoffer" After All
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 8:43 PM This 17-Minute Tribute to David Fincher Is the Perfect Preparation for Gone Girl
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 6:40 PM This iPhone 6 Feature Will Change Weather Forecasting
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 17 2014 7:30 AM Ring Around the Rainbow
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.