The target voters are not white women. They are white men without a college education, specifically ones who are reluctant to vote for a black candidate but who -- like most people -- are at the same time fed up with Republican rule. McCain's bet is that there are enough of them in the right states to tip the election to him, especially if he doesn't mention the fact that he's a Republican. That's why he runs inflammatory commercials like this, implicitly portraying the black candidate as a wolf stalking a white woman:
It's designed to appeal to every base, subterranean fear whites have of blacks and black sexuality. There's no other way of viewing it. And yet the MSM focuses on Obama's "lipstick on a pig" remark (Fox News called it "mudslinging") and treats seriously the McCain accusation of Obama playing the so-called gender card.
As for Obama, he's definitely been thrown off guard by the Palin selection and the response to it. I don't have any problems with the "lipstick" remark other than wondering why he talks about her at all. At the convention, he did a fine job of defining change as a departure from the policies of the last eight years. The competing definitions of change are the battleground, and he can't allow McCain to steal a march on him.
At the end of the day, it's McCain's definition of change that is lipstick on a pig. He cuts a fine figure, Obama can say, but what does he actually propose. More of the same, it turns out. So, if you like the state of the economy, if you approve of record foreclosures and the collapse of a key part of the financial market, if you think there are no problems with health care access,if you want to be stuck in Iraq for a hundred years, then fine: Vote for John McCain. Otherwise, I'm your man. He's used this approach to great effect in the past, and he must get back on that message.