Controlling factor

This week brought something unprecedented to the presidential race, courtesy of “Access Hollywood”: an exclusive family interview including the young daughters of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), decided on at the last minute by the candidate and his wife, that unfolded exquisitely and could become an iconic moment in political history.

Meanwhile, a fitting anniversary was under way at the campaign of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), which practically ceased to exist exactly a year ago this week, with new but familiar headlines of power struggles and personnel shifts.

McCain, of course, had his party’s nomination locked down four months ago — for Obama it has been roughly four weeks. Already they are a study in contrasts; both make mistakes, but one candidate takes far more control than the other.

The intimate and utterly charming televised glimpse of the Obama family comes after a sustained rough patch for Obama, whose recent flip-flops, lull in fundraising and continued troubles with the Hillary Clinton campaign have dominated the news. Sure, the seamless interview may have been accidental, but the timing was impeccable.

And it comes on the heels of more recent muscle-flexing by the upstart contender: a plan to move key Democratic National Committee (DNC) operations to his Chicago headquarters, establishing a congressional liaison team to coordinate message strategy and dispatching a dozen people to Denver to repair the DNC convention process already marred by delays and debt. Most audacious of all has been Obama’s decision to move his nominating speech from the Pepsi Center to Invesco Field. There Obama will surround himself with nearly four times the number of people McCain will enjoy the following week when he is nominated, or the number of people Clinton will address on her designated night in Denver.

While he works to win over her voters, McCain is already drawing some comparisons to Clinton. Like Clinton, McCain assembled a team of talented and deeply loyal people who all get to cook and crowd up the kitchen. Soon it no longer matters if they are rivals or friends because the place is overheated and cannot function effectively. Observers noted the fundamental problem now dogging Team McCain is the same one that caused its original collapse. Last year John Weaver, a longtime right hand to McCain, was edged out in favor of Rick Davis, who this month was sidelined by Steve Schmidt. At the same time that Schmidt was given the reins, McCain was dithering about whether or not to finally, officially bring in Mike Murphy.

Rumors and speculation boiled over to the op-ed page of  The New York Times, while Murphy was quoted in the paper’s news pages saying, “I think the depressingly self-absorbed McCain campaign machine needs to get out of the way.” Murphy declared this week he would not come aboard, but McCain will undoubtedly continue to seek his outside counsel, as he reportedly still does with Weaver.

While McCain — the military man — resists a proper chain of command, Obama abhors drama. There is no question about who is in charge at the Obama campaign, where, holed up in Chicago, the team has managed to keep any and all disputes from the media.

It may be easy to write Obama off as a control freak. But not if his aggressive, expensive 50-state strategy — designed to boost down-ballot Democrats running for the House and Senate, divert his opponent’s resources and ideally redraw the electoral map — becomes a success. In that case, the Boy Scout wins.

None of this means Obama will win, or that he can govern better than McCain. Obama may not be able to control his own destiny, but unlike McCain — who carries lucky coins in his pocket — Obama is leaving little to chance.

Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.