With 22 days left before the voters hit the polls, conservative pundits and media commentators are scratching their heads over the lack of direction - indeed, the near schizophrenic judgment - of the McCain campaign.
Appearing at the Time Warner Summit conference on the 2008 election, a host of prominent electoral observers were all bearish on the Arizona Republican's presidential ambitions. Not one panelist took the chance to defend the Senator's choice of Sarah Palin as vice president. Others simply saw death by electoral numbers.
"Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, Missouri, Iowa, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada," declared Byron York of the National Review. "Bush won everyone of those states except Pennsylvania. McCain has to do it all. And it is hard to do that by going on Letterman."
The reference was to the Arizona Republican's upcoming appearance on the Late Night Show this Thursday. For the panelists it symbolized yet another instance of what Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan described as "herky-jerky" behavior coming from the Republican ticket.
"Obama seems older in a way," said the former Ronald Reagan speechwriter. "McCain has seemed herky-jerky. Obama has seemed like the older, steadier fellow since the economic crisis began."
It was a sentiment echoed by most everyone else. Josh Marshall, the publisher of Talking Points Memo, made the case, as he has done many times before, that the senator by and large has dug his own grave.
"By the way he has conducted his campaign, McCain has got himself in a hole," he said. "That dramatic gesture [that he might turn to]... even if, on its own terms, it might be good for him, he has so effectively created this view as erratic it might not work."
The main object of ridicule and criticism, however, was Sarah Palin. York called her interviews with CBS's Katie Couric "very bad" and immune to political spin.
"She may be a very effective governor of Alaska who wasn't able to pick up on what you need to be an effective vice presidential candidate," said the National Review scribe.
Added Noonan: "Her performance from day one mattered. What the American people saw over the period of five or six weeks, it has been very up and down. From an unveiling that gave rise to questions to a very strong convention speech, to interviews that were disastrous, to a debate in which she came back very strong, to now, ten days on the campaign trail, where I think it is fair to say: that didn't work."
It was a fairly brutal affair, remarkable for its intense, sometimes overbearing, bipartisan focus on the ailments of the Republican ticket. Thirty-five minutes into the discussion, Jeffrey Toobin actually had to remind his fellow panelist that there was another candidate in the race.
"We haven't commented yet," said the CNN analyst, "on what a sensational campaign Obama has run."
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