The New York Times lowered the boom on John McCain Wednesday night and McCain's campaign lowered it right back.
You can read The New York Times story here, but it basically says that McCain may have been having a romantic relationship with a lobbyist eight years ago. Look at how the story begins:
Early in Senator John McCain's first run for the White House eight years ago, waves of anxiety swept through his small circle of advisers.
A female lobbyist had been turning up with him at fund-raisers, visiting his offices and accompanying him on a client's corporate jet. Convinced the relationship had become romantic, some of his top advisers intervened to protect the candidate from himself - instructing staff members to block the woman's access, privately warning her away and repeatedly confronting him, several people involved in the campaign said on the condition of anonymity.
When news organizations reported that Mr. McCain had written letters to government regulators on behalf of the lobbyist's client, the former campaign associates said, some aides feared for a time that attention would fall on her involvement.
Mr. McCain, 71, and the lobbyist, Vicki Iseman, 40, both say they never had a romantic relationship. But to his advisers, even the appearance of a close bond with a lobbyist whose clients often had business before the Senate committee Mr. McCain led threatened the story of redemption and rectitude that defined his political identity.
The story also brings into question McCain's relationships with lobbyists, suggesting that he may be cozier with them than he leads on. The McCain campaign released this statement about the article:
It is a shame that the New York Times has lowered its standards to engage in a hit and run smear campaign. John McCain has a 24-year record of serving our country with honor and integrity. He has never violated the public trust, never done favors for special interests or lobbyists, and he will not allow a smear campaign to distract from the issues at stake in this election.
"Americans are sick and tired of this kind of gutter politics, and there is nothing in this story to suggest that John McCain has ever violated the principles that have guided his career."
Obviously an article like this doesn't help McCain among the conservatives he's trying to win over, especially social conservatives. But let's take a step back for a moment.
The NY Times has NO evidence in their story that there was actually a romantic relationship. No phone calls, e-mails, etc.
Will some people be put off by the alleged romantic relationship? Sure, but I'm not convinced it's a killer when it comes to McCain's courting of the evangelical vote.
It may be one more reason not to vote for McCain for some Evangelicals. But my hunch is that for the most part, this story does nothing to radically change McCain's relationship with Evangelicals. I mean, what? All of a sudden Evangelicals won't vote for him because of this, or now vote for Obama or Clinton? I don't see it.
Also, the article actually has many cases where McCain is shown to take the high road when it comes to putting his principles first over the desires of lobbyists. Considering McCain's track record on ethics reform, I think it's a hard sell to suggest he's some sort of phony on the issue. It's going to take more than one NY Times article for that to stick.
Bottom line: it's a tough article for the McCain camp to swallow, but just how long will it stick around? If it's 48 hours and mostly gone, no harm, no foul. If other newspapers start to follow up and this becomes a trickle, trickle, trickle deal, then it ends up being more problematic.
One final question, why publish this now? What's the story behind that? Enquiring minds want to know.