Maybe it depends on what the definition of "house" is.
Politico answered the question for him: it's eight. The Obama camp, of course, has been on this all day. One detail that has gone mostly overlooked: when he couldn't answer, McCain said that he would have his staff get back to the interviewer. His staff? It's actually normal for a Senator to refer questions to staff, but it sounds like the classic Hollywood line "I'll have my people get in touch with your people."
The best thing about this for the Obama campaign is that it gives them an excuse to highlight this issue without bringing it up first. The fact that the McCains own so many houses has been known for a long time, but it has been below the radar. Now everyone in the country knows about it. Greg Sargent at TPM has a succint summation of the implications:
This gift is four-fold: It allows the Obama campaign to reclaim the offensive after a far-too-defensive stretch. It energizes rank-and-file Dems who had been hand-wringing about what they saw as Obama's unwillingness to get tougher with McCain.TPM found another little tidbit in the Politico piece: the McCains recently raised their budget for household employees from "$184,000 in 2006 to $273,000 in 2007." $273,000 for household employees? Many people have maids that clean their houses once a week, or maybe a guy who does the lawn, but a quarter of a million dollars for household employees? Smells like elitism to me.
It gives Obama the opening he needed to sound a more aggressive populist tone that until now he'd left to others. And it shifts the focus away from national security politics, where McCain was making clear gains, on to domestic economic issues, which are paramount in the minds of voters.
Of course, John McCain doesn't actually own all of these houses. His wife, Cindy, owns them, because she's the one with the money.
In 2004, didn't Rush Limbaugh et. al. mock John Kerry for marrying a wealthy heiress?
Half the fun is watching the McCain campaign try to spin this:
McCain strategists hope that Obama's brass knuckles punch doesn't work. "Americans don't like this class warfare stuff," the official said. They aspire to be rich, the official said. They don't aspire to eat arugala or hang out with celebrities.Americans also don't like feeling like they're being screwed over by rich people who know how to game the system.
The more the McCain camp tries to spin this, the more ridiculous they look. What the hell does an obscure kind of lettuce have to do with a Presidential campaign? Hanging out with celebrities? Isn't McCain the one with a cameo in a raunchy sex comedy? Which I think will ultimately be the best thing for Obama: there's just no way McCain can use trivialities like arugula or Paris Hilton to attack Obama, when he has 8 houses. Owning more than one house is something absolutely everybody understands.