That's what seems to have happened to the Democratic ticket after Barack Obama's disastrous performance in the Denver debate Oct. 3.
So Obama on the campaign trail and Joe Biden in the vice presidential debate fell back on what they know from their formative political years.
At least that's the best explanation I can come up with for the Obama campaign's obsession with Big Bird.
On the campaign trail in the week after the presidential debate, Obama mentioned Big Bird 13 times -- 13 times more than he mentioned Libya.
And the Obama campaign rolled out a 30-second spot showing Mitt Romney saying "Big Bird" several times. Even liberals labeled it the worst TV ad they had ever seen.
But someone in the Obama campaign -- and remember that the campaign always reflects the candidate -- thought hitting Romney for defunding PBS, "Sesame Street" and Big Bird would be devastating.
Never mind that "Sesame Street" gets little money from the government and has an endowment in the hundreds of millions. As the Sesame folks assured us, Big Bird is going to continue to be on the air whatever Romney does.
The Big Bird offensive would have been more effective in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when Obama came of political age. Lots of people then saw public broadcasting as a needed alternative to commercial television.
Better your kids watch "Sesame Street" than cartoons interlaced with ads for sugared cereals. And they'd learn to respect ghetto kids in the process.
It's an argument with some appeal still in the state Senate district Obama sculpted for himself in 2002, linking black neighborhoods on Chicago's South Side with the rich liberals in Gold Coast apartments. But for ordinary voters, with 133 cable channels to choose from, Sesame Street and PBS are just not a big deal.
Fast forward to Joe Biden at the debate. He clearly did what the Obama campaign wanted: lots of lusty attacks on Mitt Romney, repeated mentions of that magic number 47 percent, smirks and groans and derisive laughter.
He interrupted Paul Ryan and moderator Martha Raddatz more than 80 times, which may have been off-putting to independents and undecideds. But he gave core Democrats like interrupter Chris Matthews something to cheer about.
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