A Home-Grown -Gate!

Talk about a housing crisis. Yesterday, following John McCain on the trail in Las Cruces, New Mexico, Politico’s Jonathan Martin and Mike Allen asked the senator a seemingly straightforward question: how many homes do you and Cindy own? The answer, coming from a candidate who has made much of his opponent’s general “elitism”—and during, of course, a time of intense economic hardship for many Americans—was…well, not good.

“I think—I’ll have my staff get to you,” McCain said. “It’s condominiums where—I’ll have them get to you.”

Yowza. And the question, it’s worth noting, still hasn’t been answered with any finality. McCain’s staff came back with “at least four”; Newsweek, earlier this summer, estimated the number at seven; and the group Progressive Accountability, via the Huffington Post, is reporting ten homes in all—“two beachfront condos in Coronado, California, condo in La Jolla, California, a two-unit condominium complex in Phoenix, Arizona, three ranch houses located outside of Sedona, Arizona, a high-rise condo in Arlington, Virginia, a rental loft, and, according to GQ, a loft they bought for their daughter, Meghan”—worth a combined total of $13,823,269.

Wow. (The utility bills alone!) But it’s not the having-of-houses that’s problematic for McCain (he’s a senator; one would expect multiple homes); it’s, of course, the not-knowing-about-the-having—which would seem to suggest either financial excess (Elitism!) or forgetfulness (Old Age!). Both of which implications Steve Schmidt et al would prefer to avoid.

The Obama campaign, increasingly willing to go on the attack (Politics As Usual!), has leapt on the gaffe. And since the best fuel for candidate-sparked fire is an Indignant Reponse From Said Candidate’s Opponent, it looks like we’ve got ourselves a scandal.

It’s not a direct analogy, to be sure, but one can’t help but think of Bitter-gate in all this: the accusations of elitism, the umbrage expressed on behalf of Ordinary Americans, etc. The line between Inadvertent-Slip-of-the-Tongue and Inadvertent-Baring-of-the-Soul is a thin one in such cases—and one, of course, defined by the press. In Obama’s case, Bitter-gate’s elitism charge stuck—partly because he’d already wrapped himself in Velcro (Arugula!), but partly because the press decided that it should.

Will they do the same for/to McCain? Or is there room for only one elitist on the campaign trail?

Update: Looks like there may be an explanation for McCain’s hesitancy about the house question. According to Politico, “Sen. McCain himself does not own any of the properties. They’re all owned by Cindy McCain, her dependent children and the trusts and companies they control.”

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Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.