Pre-Debate Thoughts

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Some arm-chair quarterbacking before the final debate.

Obama’s mission is simple. Kill the clock. Act Presidential. Hope nothing happens. He’s winning.

McCain’s job is harder. He’s up against the wall and time is quickly running out. My advice, as usual, is probably the opposite of what his people are advising him. I say ignore Obama. The whole idea that McCain can score some zinger driven moment where Obama curls up in a sobbing ball and admits he isn’t ready to be President is ridiculous. Presidential debates don’t work like the last act in a courtroom movie. McCain doesn’t need an insult zinger, he needs a clear rationale for his candidacy. McCain’s once formidable “brand” has been so damaged by his campaign that his real problem isn’t creating more doubts about Obama, it is erasing the many doubts voters now have about him. Tonight is his last unfiltered chance to repair that damage.

McCain should borrow a technique from the Palin playbook and look mostly into the camera, directly addressing the home audience. He should imply a gentle mea culpa; the stakes for America are so high and this election is so important that he found himself doing things to win it that he has spent his political life fighting against. That is now over and he will stand or fall on making his positive case directly to the American people. He should talk about being the tough sheriff Washington needs to slam back the special interests in both parties and lead a bi-partisan Washington that will fix the economic crisis at home and protect us abroad. A President not allied to one party, but to our national purpose. He shouldn’t sneer and mock Obama; praise him instead as good hearted and ready to mightily assist in this great mission but not yet prepared to lead it. Sell bi-partisan balance versus a one party Washington without checks and restraint. Gently imply that Obama’s problem is his weakness, his need to please rather than lead. Leave the nasty snarls locked up in the green room. Forget earmarks and small policy. Talk big and lead big.

Over the last few days McCain has finally begun trying to turn his campaign back in a direction that suits him and his cause. I think the polls will now start slowly moving in McCain’s direction. The question is, can they move enough? Tonight’s debate is McCain’s last chance to reverse his downward course. The odds are long and the advantage is now clearly with Obama. Only the real McCain can spark a comeback.