Sen. John McCain's (R., Ariz.) campaign gained huge momentum coming out of the Republican National Convention one month ago. At the time, his new running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, captured the imagination of the base and ignited interest from female voters across the nation. Polls at the second week of September showed McCain and Sen. Barack Obama (D., Ill.) at a tie. Some polls even had McCain in the lead. McCain's turnaround was punctuated by his taking the lead in Internet betting on the presidential race at InTrade.com. Bettors had run his chances from the low-30 percentiles to well above 50%. However, the turnaround has all but evaporated heading into the second week of October with Obama retaking an 8-point lead in several national polls. Can McCain recover from this deficit in the same fashion he did a month ago and win the race? The McCain campaign had a two-pronged strategy heading into August to reduce Obama's lead in the polls. First, it hit Obama with negative attack ads meant to question his qualifications and raise doubts about his ability to govern. Obama faced attacks on his "celebrity" status and his ability to perform as commander in chief. McCain's numbers started to rally in polls with the plethora of punches at Obama's character and record. More important, the Obama campaign struggled on the defensive in the month of August as it remained focused on preparation for the Democratic National Convention. The DNC offered the Obama campaign an opportunity to paint McCain as four more years of President Bush. Obama recovered somewhat in the polls after those efforts at the DNC.
Then the McCain campaign hit with its second strategy -- a game-changing vice-presidential selection. The public's interest in Palin boosted support for McCain's campaign and the renewed focus on reform added momentum to an August run. Suddenly, McCain sat on top of the race. However, the U.S. financial crisis intervened. On Sept. 29, the Dow Jones Industrial Average sank 777 points as rumors circulated that Goldman Sachs ( GS) and Morgan Stanley ( MS) could fall into the trap that had already taken Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch ( MER) and Bear Stearns. McCain made several moves that damaged his campaign in the following two days. First, he endorsed the Treasury's $700 billion bailout even though such an endorsement contradicts his long history as a deregulator and demands for small government. Conservatives couldn't be happy. Second, he "suspended" his campaign to negotiate the crisis. His interjection into the process proved awkward and detrimental to the passage of the deal. Despite his predictions the bill would pass, it failed in the House that week leaving him in a poor position. McCain has tanked on InTrade betting. His odds have fallen from better than 50-50 to 2-1 in two short weeks. Worse, the first presidential debate and the VP debate haven't helped his numbers. The McCain campaign reacted to the drop by going on the attack. Palin struck first, suggesting Obama has ties to a Bill Ayers, a domestic terrorist involved with the Weather Underground Organization. Most fact-checking organizations have said the ties between the two appear tenuous at best, and Ayers' violent acts occurred when Obama was eight years old. Obama has denounced Ayers' actions.
The Obama campaign has been quicker to react to the strategy shift. On Monday it released a 13-minute documentary-style video on McCain's role in the Keating Five scandal. Obama's campaign is trying to tie McCain to the Savings and Loan Crisis of the 1980s to compare how he would handle the current financial crisis. In September, Palin was the game-changer for McCain, sending his campaign over 50% in polls. What will be the game-changer in October? I don't see one in sight. Both Obama and his running mate, Sen. Joe Biden (D. Del.), have faced every conceivable attack on their records. The stock markets -- at home and abroad -- appear stuck in reverse ensuring a continued economic crisis, a trend that has served as an advantage to Obama's campaign. McCain's only hope now rests on an unforeseen "October Surprise." A surprise attack on domestic security could send fear through voters to push them to choose a war veteran over Obama. Without a change to solidify the attacks McCain makes in his negative attacks about Obama's experience, he may come up short Nov. 4.