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Pulling No Punches

Yesterday I said the Obama versus McCain race was essentially on. As if on cue, almost instantly in fact, Senators John McCain and Barack Obama were exchanging blows.

In response to a question, McCain hit on a theme he has repeated several times, that the terror group Hamas wants Barack Obama to win, while by contrast, Hamas definitely does not want John McCain to win. (A senior Hamas chief did, in fact, say "we" prefer Obama.)

Obama threw an elbow back, saying by trying to tie him to the terrorist group McCain was "losing his bearings."

So we have one presidential candidate saying his opponent's fans include terrorists and the other shooting back that his opponent is doddering around with a group of elderly mall walkers.

And this is Day One.

Then, with those insults still ringing in the ears of cable news viewers, the real fighting began. To see how this might go over the next seven months, we only have to look at the acid tone of an angry complaint from the McCain camp, followed by a sniffy dismissal from Obama's side.

Writing for the McCain camp was Mark Salter, who has authored several books with the Republican senator including his most recent, "Faith of My Fathers." Salter fired off a stinging public e-mail charging it was typical of Obama's style of campaigning that he would raise McCain's age in this way. "We have all become familiar with Senator Obama's new brand of politics. First, you demand civility from your opponent, then you attack him, distort his record and send out surrogates to question his integrity." Salter called it "the oldest kind of politics there is," which is a little like Pastor Wright denigrating the candidate of change as an ordinary "politician."

Salter said McCain had never suggested that Obama supports Hamas, but "it is more than fair to raise this quote about Senator Obama because it speaks to the policy implications of his judgment," and that Obama "is trying desperately to de-legitimize the discussion of issues that raise legitimate questions about his judgment and preparedness to be president of the United States."

Jonathan Martin of Politico called it one of Salter's "patented howitzer blasts."

Obama's team, no doubt still taking a deep breath from a stunning morning in which Mrs. Clinton had announced to reporters from USA Today that "white" voters were with her, nonetheless responded to this fresh attack quickly. Obama spokesman Bill Burton replied in his own -email: "Clearly losing one's bearings has no relation to age, given this bizarre rant that Mark Salter just sent out." In other words, the much younger Salter seemed also to be "losing his bearings."

"It's clear why a candidate offering a third term of George Bush's disastrous economic policies and failed strategy in Iraq would want to distract and attack, but it's not the kind of campaign John McCain has promised the American people that he would run," Burton scolded.

Technically it's is premature to declare the fall campaign already underway. Hillary Clinton hasn't quit and she does have on her side the sticky issue of Democrats disenfranchising two large and important states.

But it appears the general election opponents may finally be facing off. Fifteen months down (more or less), seven months to go.

That's My Word.

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