Here's what I know: The public views George W. Bush as a freakish anomaly. He's considered such a disaster that the country cannot conceive of a next president as similarly out of touch with reality.
So, while the Democrats have an unquestioned advantage going into this presidential election, I believe the public has been willing to give the Republican nominee a fair shake. They view Bush as incompetent, and this country is looking for competence.
I get this impression from talking to people around the country over the last year and a half. There was very little mention of George W. Bush when talking about the candidates. And while I often point to John McCain's record of voting 91% of the time with George W., I do believe that many (but not all) do not find it credible for McCain to be Bush III.
Part of the reason why the Republicans stood a shot in this election is also because Obama is relatively new on the scene. That left some still skeptical about Obama and willing to take a look at the Republican's choice.
So, what happened? Six weeks ago, McCain held a slight lead in the polls. It was the only time he's led in four months. Where did it all go wrong?
The economy collapsed. But the collapse of the economy did not mean the collapse of the McCain campaign -- no, what killed the McCain campaign was simply John McCain's campaign.
Mistake #1 - Sarah Palin
It was no one other than John McCain who chose Sarah Palin as his running mate. Ask around; this turned out to be a killer for McCain. Palin has been a horrible, horrible running mate, veering toward nutty attacks on Obama, and using the exact tactics that the country is not interested in at all at this time. She's speaking to a very narrow base of fanatics and William Kristol of The New York Times, a columnist most noted for his lack of touch with reality (An aside: Did the Times select Kristol as their "conservative" columnist because they knew he was off the wall, and thus he would make conservatism look bad? Couldn't they have found a right-winger who was more credible?).
I had friends who were considering McCain. They told me why -- their logic was not terrible. But all of them -- all of them -- changed their minds when Palin started to speak. McCain killed his argument that experience matters. It was the crux of his campaign, and he destroyed his own message. And here's how this problem is constantly compounded: one, when McCain talks about how great Sarah Palin is, it's just not credible. Two, whenever Palin makes news, her candidacy is just not credible.
Mistake #2 - McCain's Reasons for Picking Palin
The Maverick, as he likes to call himself, could no longer claim to be a maverick when it was clear that he wanted to pick Joe Lieberman or Tom Ridge, but the right-wing told him, "no." He then had to pick the only right-winger he could stand: the one he did not yet have the opportunity to know and dislike. So he picked Palin, and once again, destroyed his message.
Mistake #3 - The Surge
John McCain may or may not be right about the surge. I don't know. But it is very clear that he is passionate about it. He talks easily about the Generals and the situation on the ground. He's very fluent in the subject. But when he talks about the economy, it is quite clear that he is not passionate about it. He does not talk easily about homeownership or Wall Street. He's admittedly not fluent on the subject. Each mention of the Surge shows how much he does not know about the economy.
Mistake #4 - The Suspension
The "suspension" of his campaign to go to Washington to negotiate the bailout again took away the Maverick label. You cannot be a maverick when you try such a political ploy. It was the kind of "gut" decision that McCain likes to make, and here's the thing about gut decisions: some go well, some go horribly wrong. They represent no clear political philosophy, just brashness. The country is crying out for stability. McCain does not seem stable.
Mistake #5 - The Debates
There is not much McCain could have done about this one. TV is not kind to 72-year old men, particularly when they are on stage next to a much younger, more handsome, articulate person. One of the reasons I always held such confidence in Obama's victory was because the debates would work in his favor due to the age gap.
Mistake #6 - Ayers
Talking about Ayers is representative of the fact that the McCain people have no idea what the country is thinking. The country has looked at Obama, and he seems calm, stable, Presidential. Only the wackiest nut jobs think Obama approves of the acts committed by Ayers. We all know by now that Ayers is Professor Ayers, and he has helped work on education issues in Chicago. No one thinks Obama "pals around with terrorists." It's not credible. By constantly repeating this line, it takes away McCain's credibility, because the people have seen Obama and judged him as a moderate fellow.
These are the mistakes that cost McCain the campaign. Not the economy.