It has been fascinating to observe the McCain campaign royally self-destruct over the course of the past couple weeks. At the end of yesterday's double wammy of bailout bill defeat and stock market plummet, the Arizona senator gave a defeated, weary two minute press statement yesterday and then trudged off stage, knowing that the end of the day couldn't come soon enough. One wonders where McCain has to go. Straight-jacketed by a lethal combination of bad decision making and risky gambles, not to mention Vice-Presidential candidate who has looked more like a liability than an asset in the same period of time.
Obama, to his credit, has run a disciplined, controlled campaign and has avoided making major gaffes. His campaign has stumbled a bit, but his major missteps happened relatively early on in the race. When compared to the controversy-a-day nature of the Clinton campaign or the dramatic and desperate risks taken by Team McCain, Obama has had few problems of his own creation. In addition, he's obviously worked hard at debate preparation, as evidenced by Friday's performance which was his strongest ever. Right now, Obama really doesn't have to do much except watch his opponent's campaign self-destruct.
What has been clear to me is that the Republican party assumed that it would be running against Hillary Clinton. The GOP had been preparing for years how to run against the former First Lady. When Obama pulled a shocking upset, McCain and the rest of his party found themselves without much of a strategy. That it took a gimmicky move like putting Sarah Palin on the ticket for the campaign to achieve its only lasting, albeit short-lived lead thus far in the general election campaign is even more evidence of bad strategy. Yes, a McCain victory was a tall order owing to the fact that President Bush's approval rating is extremely low and the electorate is thoroughly sick of Republican leadership. It might still transpire. Much can happen in a month's time.
Candidates before have overcome substantial odds and either successfully closed the gap or come back from behind to win. In 1948, Harry Truman's non-stop barnstorming and whistle-stop campaigning turned what was thought of as an almost sure defeat into a narrow victory. Truman still trailed Dewey significantly in October, but in a month's time closed the gap and overtook his Republican challenger. In 1976, Gerald Ford trailed Jimmy Carter by upwards of thirty points in the summer, but benefitted from significant Carter mistakes to narrow the race considerably. Ford even managed to shrug off a poor showing in the second debate to lose barely on Election Day.
With a little more than a month to go, anything can happen, but if Team McCain hopes to win, they're going to have to turn things around and catch a break in the process.