I slowed down long enough last night to listen to a John McCain stump speech from Pennsylvania in its entirety and the guy had all the enthusiasm of a public radio station fund drive announcer trying to convince listeners that the station will go off the air if they don't buy his baby new shoes.
Yes, it's that bad.
About all that McCain can hope for 12 days out is a "dead cat bounce," that is, a tightening in the polls because unlikely voters are in fact voting for him, but the reality is that McCain's chances of prevailing have come down to two possible outcomes -- slim and none.
He is is campaigning like crazy in Pennsylvania, and the speech I heard represented his 18th appearance there in the last few weeks. While he apparently is writing off several other swing states, he keeps come back to the Keystone State in the hope that if he can create the illusion of momentum there then not all is lost. (Or if you subscribe to a minority view, that the two campaigns' own polling shows a much tighter race.)
If Pennsylvania is indeed McCain's "firewall" state, it is an especially sad commentary on this unhappy warrior since it has gone Democratic in four straight president elections, Democratic voter registrations are up and Republican registrations are down, Barack Obama is outspending him 4-1 statewide on advertising, and has a substantially larger and better organized field operation.* * * * *I never thought that McCain had a message -- in contrast to Obama, who has surgically honed his through a bruising primary season and now the general election campaign -- and that was painfully obvious in the daisy chain of platitudes McCain strung together during that stump speech.
Given these flatitudes, it becomes less than stunning that poll after poll shows that the people who count at this late date -- registered and likely voters -- say they have more confidence in a junior senator from Illinois who was a virtual unknown a year ago than a man who once was a widely respected career maverick.
The excuses for McCain's great unraveling are flying fast and furious, and most of them lead back to Steve Schmidt and Rick Davis, his tone-deaf campaign managers, because of their obsession with tactics over substance, notably Schmidt's the snap selection of Sarah Palin as a running mate without even a cursory examination of who she was.
If McCain has been in the thrall of his handlers, then he is even more befuddled than I have feared. If that is false, then McCain is even less prepared for that 3 a.m. phone call than I have feared.
Pick one. Nah, go ahead and pick both, kind of like McCain having more than one position on so many issues.
Yes, it's that bad.* * * * *This is my ninth presidential campaign as a reporter, editor and most recently a blogger, so permit me some perspective: It is no accident that there are so many older African-Americans waiting in the long lines at early voting stations.
These folks have long memories and they fear that they won't be able to vote on Election Day because of the usual reasons given for suppressed minority turnouts -- faulty machines, improper registration cards, not enough poll workers.
My best placed Obama campaign source has done nothing over the last several weeks except fly from state to state to push back against Republican voter-suppression efforts. And remember that the U.S. attorney scandal has been all about local federal attorneys refusing to bow to secret Bush administration directives to suppress Democratic voter turnouts, so fears that there are efforts to rig this election in McCain's favor don't seem so far fetched.
It is bad enough that the McCain campaign has been message free, but it has had to resort to damning Obama for the circumstances of his birth by inferring that he is not a real American, is a Hamas hugger and a "socialist," which was FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover's code word for civil-rights activists.
The latest form of attempted voter suppression, and one in which the news media is an unwitting accomplice, is the flurry of news stories coinciding with the McCain-Palin death spiral that police departments are beefing up their forces on Election Day. This, to quote one widely disseminated story, is "because of worries that if Barack Obama loses and there is suspicion of foul play in the election, violence could ensue in cities with large black populations."
Will white people riot if McCain loses?
You could forgive people for not knowing that Colin Powell was not white had they never seen him on TV because his skin color hasn't mattered, but the moment he endorsed Obama he became just another uppity black in the view of some Republican commentators. And when it became obvious that the Straight Talk Express had become the Hellbound Train, that Powell's brothers and sisters should be viewed with extra suspicion on the way to vote and not just afterwards.
Yes, it's that bad.
Photograph by Charlie Dharapak/The Associated Press