Despite polls and pundits, McCain hanging on

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John McCain and Joe Torre have a lot in common right now.   They're both underdogs and they both need a win Wednesday night.

Outwardly, neither show any sign of worry.  Despite his 1-3 record in a best of seven series, Torre on Tuesday calmly laid out his strategy.

"What we have to do is make sure we just go out and put the blinkers on tomorrow and win tomorrow and then concern ourselves with the next day and hopefully in Game 7 again," Torre said.

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Still alive

McCain was calm Tuesday as well, calmly repeating a line to an Orlando TV reporter which comes second nature to him.

"Political pundits have written off my campaign more times than I can count," he said.

That is true, but that bandwagon is going to get really full Wednesday without a big win.

Polls

McCain's got to turn around numbers and trends - fast. A new CBS/New York Times poll released Tuesday shows Obama leading McCain by a 14 point margin -- 53 to 39 percent.

"Among independents who are likely voters - a group that has swung back and forth between McCain and Obama over the course of the campaign - the Democratic ticket now leads by 18 points. McCain led among independents last week," says the CBS report.

Things look significantly better over at Gallup as their rolling three-day poll shows Obama only up by nine points with a 51 - 42 point edge.

Battleground states

While the latest Quinnipiac University/Wall Street Journal/Washingtonpost.Com Poll/Goodyear Tires poll shows Obama enjoying healthy leads over McCain in Colorado, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Turning these numbers around?  Might need some divine help.

"Sen. Obama's leads in these four battleground states are as large as they have been the entire campaign. Those margins may be insurmountable barring a reversal that has never been seen before in the modern era in which polling monitors public opinion throughout the campaign," said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

Defense

Pollster John Zobgy hasn't thrown in the towel.  For McCain to win, he needs to defend.  He's got to defend the Bush states of 2004.   Zogby admits Iowa is a lost cause.  So, Ohio, Florida, Virginia and North Carolina are all but necessities.

Zogby says McCain should pick up two out of the three western states in play -- Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada.  While stealing Pennsylvania would be an important gain.

"With so few opportunities to take states from his Democratic rival, Mr McCain's most likely path for victory is to limit his losses of 2004 GOP states to Iowa," Zogby writes.  "Margins remain tight, putting Mr McCain in position to win any of these critical states. Winning nearly all of them is his challenge."

So this is where we are at 21 days out.  He's still in it.

Doom

Sure, there are detractors.  A lot of them.

Democratic strategist Howard Wolfson has already written the McCain-Palin ticket's political obituary.

"The economic crisis dealt the McCain campaign a fatal body blow," Wolfson wrote in the New Republic.  "None the less, the choices that Senator McCain has made during this race will impact the margin of his defeat and the fortunes of other Republicans on the ballot. Today it's worth considering what Senator McCain could have done differently."

Super Doom

David Brooks, at the New York Times, takes it a step further -- not only conceding the election to Obama, all but predicting the death of conservatism.

"What we’re going to see, in short, is the Gingrich revolution in reverse and on steroids," he writes. "There will be a big increase in spending and deficits. In normal times, moderates could have restrained the zeal on the left. In an economic crisis, not a chance. The over-reach is coming. The backlash is next."

Sideshow

And then there is another conservative who insists on grabbing the spotlight and turning the conversation into a circus sideshow.

How to fix the campaign?  William Kristol says, blow everything up.  Fire everyone.

“The McCain campaign, once merely problematic, is now close to being out-and-out dysfunctional,” Kristol wrote Sunday. “Its combination of strategic incoherence and operational incompetence has become toxic. If the race continues over the next three weeks to be a conventional one, McCain is doomed.”

“What McCain needs to do is junk the whole thing and start over,” he continues. “Shut down the rapid responses, end the frantic e-mails, bench the spinning surrogates, stop putting up new TV and Internet ads every minute. In fact, pull all the ads — they’re doing no good anyway. Use that money for televised town halls and half-hour addresses in prime time.”

Diplomacy

The campaign staff, not surprisingly, disagreed with Kristol's analysis.  Spokesman Tucker Bounds countered with, "I know Bill Kristol is an intelligent guy, I just don’t think what he had to say was very intelligent."

Just like Iraq

Asked if firing his entire campaign staff would send the wrong message to voters, Kristol told FOX News yesterday it would send just the opposite message.

"No, it would send the same signal Bush sent when he replaced Rumsfeld when we were losing the war in Iraq and put different people in charge, took command, overruled the generals and won the war."

The anti-Joe

How to win this war?  A knockout punch at tonight's debate would certainly help the cause.

But all Obama's got to do is show up and not make any Biden-like gaffes.  It can be prevent defense all the way.  And the prior two debates have shown him to be cool under pressure.

Don't be surprised if McCain brings a kitchen sink with him.  He's got to try everything.

Taxes

Campaigning in Pennsylvania Tuesday, McCain said electing Obama is a sure-fire prescription for economic misery.

"Perhaps never before in history have the American people been asked to risk so much based on so little. You can look at the record of what he's done or you can just go with your gut, but either way you're left with the same conclusion: Sen. Obama is going to raise your taxes, and in this economy, raising taxes is the surest way to turn a recession into a depression."

 Two big nights

McCain's got a couple big nights in front of him.  The debate will easily be the most important test in his political life.  Something that may get even more attention, however?  His appearance on the David Letterman show on Thursday night.  Dave's already talking about it...

"It's going to be a big week for John McCain," Letterman said Monday night.  "Don't kid yourself. Today and tomorrow he'll be campaigning. Wednesday is the debate. And then, on Thursday, he cancels on me again."

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