But when it comes to the economy, it's a cost-of-living election, with health-care costs and energy prices eroding workers' wages. This is why McCain's new support for offshore drilling has had such resonance. On the tax front, he offers families a doubling of the dependent exemption from $3,500 to $7,000. That sounds like a lot, but people down the income scale don't pay enough in income taxes for the exemption to make much of a difference, and for everyone else, McCain fully phases it in only in 2016.
Unless McCain finds a way to get more relief to middle-class families, he has an enormous weakness. Policy doesn't win or lose elections alone, but it can interact powerfully with a candidate's narrative. One of Obama's best defenses against the notion that he's a celebrity-candidate aloof from average Americans is a tax plan that says he feels their pain. One of McCain's greatest risks of being branded "Bush III" and just a typical Republican is a tax plan crafted long ago by George W. Bush and tilted toward upper-income brackets.
McCain can still adjust, and he'd better. Obama can't be counted on to complain all the way to November.