This week, the effort continued. On June 12, Mr. Obama signed on to a bill introduced by Senator Chuck Schumer that would target firms that lobbied abroad, a move that was widely seen as a shot at Mr. McCain’s campaign manager, Rick Davis, who co-owns a firm that has lobbied for a Ukranian politician.
THE CAMPAIGN’S ABILITY to play hard is not news to reporters, who have had some tense dealings with the Obama people. (In March, Politico published a story about the furious tone of deputy communications director Dan Pfeiffer, who called to complain to a veteran politics editor about a story and said, “Who are you? I’ve never heard of you. What’s your background?”)
But it seems, somehow, to have taken the McCain campaign off guard, and their aggrieved response, much like Mrs. Clinton’s throughout the heated Democratic nomination fight, is to accuse Mr. Obama of hypocrisy.
As McCain economic adviser and surrogate Carly Fiorina put it, “The rhetoric is that Barack Obama’s campaign is a new style of politics—the reality is that the attacks that are leveled against John McCain or surrogates or staff are po
litics as usual.”
Ms. Fiorina said the Obama campaign had purposefully used the word “confused” to evoke the question of age and hurt Mr. McCain, who is 71. “One thing everyone acknowledges about Barack Obama is that he uses words very well,” she said. “I do not think that was a casual use of words. I think that was a very deliberate use of words.”
Ms. Fiorina, the ousted CEO of Hewlett-Packard, said that she, too, had been unfairly targeted.
“Charges have been made about me which are serious, false and the worst kind of politics,” said Ms. Fiorina, who was criticized by the Obama campaign for, among other things, her lucrative severance package.
“Unless reporters like you pick that up and examine it,” she said, “there isn’t much that we can do by responding, but we’ll continue to respond.”
(The Obama campaign says that Ms. Fiorina was acting as a spokeswoman for the McCain campaign when she came under attack, at a time when Mr. McCain was criticizing golden parachute deals and attacking Obama vice-presidential vetter Jim Johnson for his business connections.)
Mr. Obama’s supporters say he’s only doing what’s necessary, and promise more of the same.
“Just because his message is high-minded doesn’t mean Barack will tolerate anything less than a rapid response to silence those who lie about him,” Senator John Kerry wrote in an e-mail to The Observer. “He gets it.”
“From the Democratic side, there were lessons learned in the last elections,” said Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, one of Mr. Obama’s closest allies. “What they did to Kerry with the Swift-boat attack was something we handled very poorly. We didn’t respond decisively, quickly, and we paid a heavy price for it. It’s not going to happen again.”
Obama campaign spokesman Hari Sevugan said, “Change and speaking the truth forcefully are not mutually exclusive — in fact, one depends on the other.”
Mr. Durbin objected strongly to the idea that the Mr. Obama was pushing Mr. McCain around—among other things, he said that Mr. McCain would never allow that to happen—but he did suggest that the Obama campaign perhaps had a sharpness after its tough nomination battle, one that the McCain campaign lacked.
“McCain didn’t go through that,” he said. “When was the last time he had an honest-to-goodness debate within the Republican Party? It’s been months ago. He’s been able to stand on the sidelines and watch Hillary and Barack battle it out.”
Mr. Durbin also contended that neither Mr. Obama or his campaign has intended to elliptically raise the issue of Mr. McCain’s age by repeatedly calling the candidate “confused.”
“There was no memo and no directive about ‘let’s peddle the word confusion’; the fact that it might have been used once or twice—I’ve used that against candidates running against me who were younger, and they were confused. It is not a code word from where I’m sitting, and I don’t think that’s what the campaign meant it to be.”
Mr. Lehane, the Democratic operative, pronounced himself delighted that the McCain campaign was feeling victimized.
“When you are crying foul in a presidential campaign,” he said, “it usually means you are losing.”