Sen. John McCain needs a few yellow sticky-notes to himself

Whether he puts them on his bedpost or on the steering wheel of the Straight Talk Express, or strategically places them on campaign manager Steve Schmidt’s forehead, John McCain better put some of those oversized yellow sticky-notes anywhere he is likely to look this week. It is time to stop procrastinating and tackle that pesky “To Do” list, if he is to have any hope of keeping that schedule item that reads: “United States Capitol/West Front — 12 noon — Jan. 20 — 2009”?

With just a month to go before the GOP convention in Minneapolis, it’s time for Team McCain to simplify, clear the clutter and focus on the only two urgent questions its candidate really needs to answer. The first is relatively easy; the second is a little bit trickier.

Yellow sticky No. 1: “Who should I pick to be my running mate”?

Yellow sticky No. 2: “Why am I running for president in the first place?”

As a contrarian independent, I am a huge fan of McCain. Let me re-phrase that: I am a huge fan of the John McCain I used to know; this 2008 model leaves a lot to be desired.

McCain-08 has gone further and has a much better performance rating than the original 2000 rollout but, in those visceral, primal, emotional regions where most purchasing decisions are made, this year’s model is totally uninspiring. Its top-notch sales force is seemingly content to tell me only why the other car I am considering buying is really a piece of overpriced, over-polished trash.

With no bold lines and with that same drab, silvery color and homogenized boxy look, McCain-08 is indistinguishable from the other models in the showroom and unrecognizable from the original 2000 model that got all the industry wags buzzing. The dealer nameplate welded onto the trunk might as well be a gold-embossed “Who Cares?”

Sure, marketing research suggests McCain-08 could turn out to be the fall’s big seller (especially with likely buyers), but, even with its better performance numbers and all the rest, it just doesn’t promise to be the valuable classic, once-in-a-lifetime collector’s item some had hoped for.

Right now, in my BlackBerry inbox, I have 647 undeleted e-mails from the McCain campaign. Most of them are press releases trashing Barack Obama.

A small summer sampling:

July 29, 8:37 a.m. — “Obamanomics Is A Recipe for Recession”

July 29, 7:57 a.m. — “Obama the Unknown”

July 28, 11:25 a.m. — “Statement on Barack Obama’s Canceled Troop Visits”

July 25, 8:40 a.m. — “Baghdad, Berlin, Barack”

July 22, 7:32 p.m. — “Barack Obama’s Jerusalem Backtrack”

The script for McCain’s latest 30-second television spot offers similar “inspiration,” designed, I suppose, to captivate imaginations about all those hopes and dreams my fellow countrymen have for themselves, their families and their beloved nation:

(As you read this, try to imagine the voice of the snottiest kid you ever dealt with in high school)

Announcer: Barack Obama never held a single Senate hearing on Afghanistan.

He hadn’t been to Iraq in years.

He voted against funding our troops.

And now, he made time to go to the gym, but canceled a visit with wounded troops.

Seems the Pentagon wouldn’t allow him to bring cameras.

John McCain is always there for our troops.

McCain. Country first.

John McCain: I’m John McCain and I approve this message.

I have never cut a 30-second political ad, but if I had been given a few extra seconds at the end I would have added:

Jim Mills: Shame on you, John McCain. Shame on you for approving this totally uninspiring, debasing, snotty, cynical, insecure “message” that tells me nothing about you and the reasons you want to lead the greatest nation on the face of the earth, other than the fact that you are not the other guy, of whom, by the way, you suggest we should be scared to death.

Like I said, all bellyaching to the contrary, the “new” McCain-08 model seems to be humming along and performing above expectations, especially given all the rough political terrain out there. There even seems to be a recent uptick of support for McCain over Obama just in the past few days.

So, I am sure there are lots of high-fives and fist-bumps at McCain headquarters in Virginia. Not too much celebrating, guys. You don’t want to get behind on your To Do lists.

There is still plenty of dismantling of that 2000 Maverick to be done so you can scavenge parts for that fine-working, hybrid, all-terrain vehicle designed only to “get there” via all the low roads.

You can reach Jim Mills at jmills@thehill.com.