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Will Mccain Go Where Dole Wouldn't?

Sarah Palin touches Bill Kristol's erogenous zone by telling him that McCain should "take the gloves off" in tomorrow night's debate. (A quibble: Wouldn't a real hockey mom recommend that McCain "drop the gloves"?) 

The McCain campaign has obviously decided to take the gloves off in its other campaign venues, such as stump speeches and ads. But it'll be interesting to see if McCain goes after Obama in such a fashion when he's actually seeing him in person (although, of course, not looking him in the eye, which McCain is apparently unwilling to do).

The situation reminds me of the one Bob Dole faced in 1996, when Republicans were trying to make an issue of Bill Clinton's character--or lack thereof--but Dole refused to take that line when he debated Clinton. Dole later talked about his decision in an interview with Jim Lehrer:

SEN. BOB DOLE: My view was that, and again, you know, there was how far should we go, you know, there was even then should we get into the character thing, and I decided not to do that, even though I was being pushed by some. I said well, you get into that, I think everybody loses. That was my view.

JIM LEHRER: I was going to ask you about that because you were asked. I asked you toward the end of the debate whether or not there was anything of a personal nature about President Clinton that was relevant and you said no. He had no regrets about having done that.

SEN. BOB DOLE: No, in the last few days of the campaign I talked about "Where is the outrage?" because this was after the Buddhist temple, and there were stories coming about campaign finance, and we had been-- first we had to put up with Forbes, who had a big bank account, and Clinton didn't have an opponent, so he had a great -- and you can't fault Clinton for not having the opponents -- he had a lot of money left over and I was broke, and we were pretty well beaten up the time we got around to the debates, but I concluded that once you cross that line, I mean, you know, then I think the campaign goes downhill.

JIM LEHRER: In retrospect, do you think it would have mattered any in terms of the outcome, if you had gone after him hot and heavy on the character issue?

SEN. BOB DOLE: As I understand it, I don't know that we did pick up a few points the last ten days of the campaign with this "Where is the outrage", "Where is the outrage." We did get people to focus on it. But then we also had our 96 hour marathon where we think people focused maybe a little bit on the campaign. But I don't think it would have made much of a difference. It would have reinforced this image that some people have that, you know, Bob Dole is mean and nasty, and now he's picking on President Clinton personally, and I'm not. I don't think I'm mean and nasty, and I didn't want to reinforce that view that some people may have had.

Given how much the McCain campaign hates analogies to Dole's, I think McCain will probably heed Palin's (and Kristol's) advice tomorrow night.

--Jason Zengerle