McCain strategists seem to agree. "We're going to spend less time talking about push polls and more time talking about Social Security -- less time talking about negative ads and bad mailings and more time delivering the message of reform," said Rick Davis, McCain's campaign manager.
Added media strategist Greg Stevens: "We need to get back to some of the things that worked earlier in the campaign."
In the most striking shift in his criticism of Bush, McCain questioned the governor's credentials as a fiscal conservative.
He argued that Bush proposed to increase taxes in Texas and raised state spending by 36 percent over four years while Clinton increased federal spending 20 percent.
"Now who do you want?" McCain asked. "The big-spender nonreformer or do you want the guy with the record?"
He said Bush would spend too much on a tax cut for the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans -- "I don't think Bill Gates needs a tax cut," he quipped. And while promising a working-class tax cut in his own plan, he suggested Bush would squander government savings during flush times.
"George Bush has not one new penny in Social Security, Medicare, paying down the debt," he said in Livonia. "My friends, in good times we can take care of our obligations. We've got obligations to the next generation of Americans, and we ought to take care of them."
In East Lansing, McCain hammered away on his signature issue, campaign finance reform. He accused Bush of trying to steal the issue by coming out with his own, more limited plan last week. "Soon he'll call himself a Texan with tenacity," McCain said, a taunting reference to the alliterative slogan the governor unveiled in South Carolina, a "reformer with results."
Said McCain: "In five years as governor of the state of Texas, Governor Bush never made one proposal on campaign finance reform in a state where unlimited contributions are the order of the day."
McCain challenged Bush's reform message with even stronger language on his campaign bus. "We're not letting you get away with that, pal," he said. "You're not a reformer. Anybody who believes you're a reformer believes in the tooth fairy."