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Commentary: Joe the Plumber vs. Colin Powell

  • Story Highlights
  • Ed Rollins: Joe the Plumber is John McCain's new best friend
  • Rollins says McCain didn't score a knockout over Obama in the debate
  • Yet Plumber Joe might be McCain's best and last chance to win election, he says
  • Rollins: People like Joe don't favor the idea of using taxes to spread the wealth
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By Ed Rollins
CNN Contributor
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Editor's Note: Ed Rollins, who served as political director for President Reagan, is a Republican strategist who was national chairman of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's 2008 presidential campaign.

Ed Rollins says Joe the Plumber could mean more than Gen. Colin Powell's endorsement of Barack Obama.

NEW YORK (CNN) -- In the last presidential debate, Joe the Plumber took the place of Gen. David Petraeus as John McCain's favorite "my friend."

The previously obscure Joe was mentioned 21 times in the debate, and he and folks like him are the people McCain says he's going to fight for during the rest of the campaign.

The McCain campaign is hoping the issues of taxes and fighting for the little guy can give McCain what the debate did not. He didn't supply the knockout debate performance he needed. He threw some heavy punches, but few landed, and he didn't follow up effectively.

Barack Obama was like the fleet-footed boxer who jabbed and moved deftly and avoided any damage on his march to victory. Though it was McCain's best debate performance, it wasn't enough to make the case that Obama is dangerously inexperienced and untested.

His case was further damaged when President Bush's former secretary of state, Colin Powell, endorsed Obama on Sunday.

We all know Colin Powell. In addition to his work in the Bush administration, Powell is a retired four-star general, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and former White House national security adviser.

He has been one of America's most significant military leaders, and a statesman widely admired across the political spectrum over the last two decades -- a man many thought could have been America's first black president. What do you think about Powell?

His reputation was somewhat damaged when he went before the world to justify the invasion of Iraq on the basis of weapons of mass destruction. I don't know if Secretary Powell knew they weren't there, but he should have known. And he was the one man who could have slowed or stopped the war.

Powell, who has served under Republican and Democratic presidents, became a Republican in recent years but longed for the Republican Party of Nelson Rockefeller. That party doesn't exist and won't again. His endorsement is significant -- if you believe endorsements matter, which I don't -- but it's not unexpected.

The man who will compete with Powell for media attention over the next several days will be Joe the Plumber. Who is he? What do you think of all the attention Joe is getting?

Joe is a real guy living in Toledo, Ohio. He is representative of the millions of hardworking Americans who get up every day and go to work, and raise their kids and contribute to their communities. They are not the Wall Street guys with fancy lifestyles who, when they make bad deals, expect the government to bail them out.

They don't expect anyone to give them anything other than honest work for honest pay. They don't want anybody to "spread the wealth" on them. They don't want other people's money. They want to earn their own. They don't want the government to take too much of their hard-earned money for things they don't want.

The establishment and the elites don't care about Joe or what he thinks. But many working Americans might, because he reflects their thinking. Will it be effective? We have to wait and see, but it is the best strategy McCain's team has had in this campaign. Country song about Joe the Plumber

Sen. Obama raised a record $150 million in September. On Saturday he attracted unheard-of crowds of over 100,000 in St. Louis, Missouri, and 75,000 that night in Kansas City.

He is going into the closing two weeks of the race with the greatest financial campaign resources in U.S. presidential history. He has more enthusiastic supporters and a better ground organization to get voters to the polls on Election Day. That is almost certainly a winning combination. But as the narrowing polls tell us, Obama hasn't closed the sale yet.

Powell's endorsement may make the Washington establishment pause and reflect, but the message of McCain and Joe the Plumber may force ordinary voters to ask some questions:

How can people who don't pay taxes get tax refunds while those that do, get tax increases?

Is an Obama presidency a giant step towards liberal socialism and military weakness?

In this time of severe crisis do we want experience or inexperience?

Obama is the obvious favorite, but with a major assist from his plumber friend, John McCain may get voters to take another look at him. After a problematic and mistake-prone McCain campaign, that's all anyone can ask.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ed Rollins.

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