Colin Powell vs. Joe the Plumber

The presidential debates are behind us and two of the most revered figures in American politics -- Joe the Plumber and Colin Powell -- have split on their choice of candidates. The race has narrowed, but Barack Obama remains in the lead. Is there time for John McCain to catch him? And more importantly, do American care more about what Joe or Colin has to say?

The national polls show a spread in the five percentage point range. That's a significant improvement for McCain from earlier in the month when Obama's lead was over eight percent. Some combination of the final presidential debate, the settling of the financial markets to their new "normal" low, and the heightened contrast between the candidates' economic messages has assisted John McCain.

As for the economy, Joe the Plumber has greatly aided the McCain campaign, which on its own had been struggling to transform this into an election about "choice" rather than an election about "change or four more years of George W. Bush." McCain is now clearly sounding the message: Barack Obama is about wealth re-distribution ("spreading the wealth") while he is about wealth creation. So long as Obama maintains a tax hike as part of his agenda -- even in a recession -- this is a potent theme, especially for voters who recall that Bill Clinton promised, but never delivered on, a middle class tax cut.

Moreover, the media treatment of Joe the Plumber has rekindled the same anger and hostility toward the media first seen when Sarah Palin received the once over from the mainstream media and the Democrats. It's the same sneering at the little guy, the same dismissive attitude, and the same effort to throw every bit of dirt they can dig up -- all on full display.

As Byron York noted, at a weekend McCain campaign event in Virginia: "There was real anger at this rally, but it wasn't, as some erroneous press reports from other McCain rallies have suggested, aimed at Obama. It was aimed at the press." That anger is a powerful motivator for many conservatives to get to the polls.

As for the Powell endorsement, the media swooned and assured us that this was a significant development. Among conservative commentators, it did not escape notice that Powell praised the surge ("We now see that things are a lot better in Iraq. Maybe if we had put a surge in in the beginning, it would've been a lot better.") just after he endorsed its most virulent critic. (Powell himself had criticized the surge in December 2006, so in that regard McCain is the only one of the three to get that decision right.)