Barack Obama just had the worst week since his beloved pastor, Jeremiah Wright, decided to expatiate on black liberation theology at the National Press Club.
Coming off his royal progress through the Near and Middle East, Berlin, Paris and London, Barack had surged to a nine-point lead in the Gallup tracking poll. By Friday, he was back to a dead heat with a 72-year-old opponent with none of his natural skills, in a year when grocers are pulling Republican brands off the shelves.
For all its gracelessness, the McCain campaign, given openings by Barack, stepped in and put Muhammad Ali on the canvas.
The first opening was the clumsiness with which Barack dealt with a planned visit to wounded U.S. troops in Landshul, Germany.
While the first half of his foreign trip, to Afghanistan and Iraq, was official, the European tour was campaign related. Yet, it was on this leg that a visit to wounded U.S. soldiers had been scheduled. As campaigning in a military hospital is prohibited, the visit was canceled.
But, instead of going ahead and visiting the troops alone, without aides, press or cameras, Barack bailed out and flew on to Paris.
This left the McCain folks an opening to paint Obama as a cold-hearted opportunist avid to visit a military hospital only if he could bring in press and cameras to record his compassion.
Enraged Obama aides savagely accused McCain of running a dishonorable campaign. This reflex reaction, and the ugly brawl that ensued, made some Americans think less of Obama, but many more forget what a success his foreign trip had been.
Came then the Paris-Britney ad. This opens with shots of the wayward blondes, then of Barack, presuming to equate the three as vacuous, insubstantial and aimless. Purpose: Disparage Barack's rock-star popularity and turn it into something laughable.
While the ad seemed both defensive and non-credible, too much of a stretch to be believed -- even Republicans derided it as "childish" -- it apparently acted as something of a matador's cape snapped in front of an already tormented Obama.
Stung, Barack retorted: "What they're going to try is make you scared of me. You know, he's not patriotic enough. He's got a funny name. You know, he doesn't look like all those other presidents on those dollar bills you know. He's risky."
Barack was accusing the McCain campaign of implying he is risky because he is black.
This was the opening Rick Davis of McCain's campaign needed to deliver a vicious uppercut to Obama's jaw, charging him with "playing the race card ... from the bottom of the deck." Added Davis, this was "divisive, negative, shameful and wrong." McCain, sadly, agreed.
With that, both benches cleared.