Can McCain win tonight? Three things he must do

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Just hours before the third and final debate tonight, expectations for a McCain resurrection in the 2008 presidential race are low.

It’s like the movie, “Dumb and Dumber” when Jim Carrey says to his wannabee girlfriend, “What are the chances of a guy like you and a girl like me… ending up together?”

After hemming and hawing, she tells him the odds are “like one out of a million.”

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To which Carrey excitedly responds, “So, you’re telling me there’s a chance!”

Really long odds

Those are about the chances that George Mason University Professor Michael McDonald is giving the McCain campaign of winning the election.

“You are more likely to be killed by a meteor dropping on your head than McCain becoming president,” McDonald told the BBC.

The polls are daunting. But as the immortal statesman Billy Ocean once said, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

It’s go time

Last week we put GOP strategist Rob Stutzman up against Democratic strategist Chris Lehane and asked them both what the keys to victory were.

Most agreed that Obama came off as the winner in the second debate. There’s no question, tonight the pressure is all on McCain.

Once again, we asked Stutzman and Lehane to break down what each candidate must do tonight.

McCain

Stutzman still has hopes for McCain to pull it out. But he says the Republican nominee first needs to offer an apology and then bring back the Straight Talk Express.

“He should apologize for how unfocused his campaign has been,” he said. “Then he’s got to announce a new campaign direction. Get back on the bus. Give access galore to the media and go campaign from the gut.”

As for tonight, he says McCain needs to ignore Obama and Schiefer and talk straight to the American people. “He needs to focus, focus, focus on a winning message,” he says.

Stutzman’s three keys

Stutzman outlined specifically what McCain should say:

1. This is not the time for on the job training. I’m the experienced bi-partisan manager who has been in the middle of every great bi-partisan accomplishment of the past 20 years.

2. I will win the war in Iraq, give the US victory not defeat, and keep us safe in a dangerous world.

3. America cannot afford to hand Washington over exclusively to Democrats. The liberals in Congress will drive us rapidly to socialism.

Obama

As for Obama, all he’s got to do is show up, right? To a point. Lehane says Obama doesn’t need to win. He just can’t “do anything that fundamentally changes the trajectory of the race.”

“This is like being ahead at the end of a football game where the other side has no timeouts and all you have to do is put a knee down and let the clock run out,” he said.

In other words, don’t pull a Joe Pisarcik.

Lehane’s three keys:

1. No fumbles. The only way the race changes is if O makes a mistake — and he won’t.
2. Keep his cool - McCain is likely to hit below the belt but so long as Obama stays calm and responds forcefully - making clear he will fight for the American people — this will make O stronger and McCain weaker as the result of the exchange.
3. Panic equals erratic. Frame McCain attacks as panic and evidence of erratic leadership that is exactly the opposite of what the country needs to day. If he does these three things, as he has over the last month, the McCain campaign will be driven into the sea.

The 90-minute debate kicks off at 9 p.m. (EDT) tonight from Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY.

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