With three weeks to go until election day, US presidential candidates Obama and McCain are bristling for their final showdown at this week's make-or-break debate in Long Island. But with Obama surging 14 points ahead in the polls, John McCain's message could fall on deaf ears.
It's been a frantic fortnight for McCain, says Tom Baldwin in The Times. Any momentum he'd picked up on the back of the nomination of Sarah Palin as his running mate seems to have evaporated. With Palin's economic inexperience exposed in a series of baffling interviews last week, McCain's gamble looks to have backfired. "The pitbull has been muzzled again," says Martin Fletcher in The Times. But McCain hasn't done himself any favours either. His behaviour has been far too erratic, says Joe Klein in Time. As Congress mulled Hank Paulson's $700bn bailout plan, McCain called off his campaign, only to abandon the capital two days later when the deal stalled. And this week, having announced he would reveal his economic proposals for seeing America through recession, McCain retracted his proposal before floating it days later.
With voters now focused on the financial crisis, that puts McCain on shaky ground, says The Economist. Beforehand, it was possible to "present the presidential election as a referendum on Mr Obama's character". So McCain stayed close to him in the polls. But while Americans may trust McCain as their commander-in-chief, it's Obama they see fixing the economy. In desperation, McCain has resorted to dirty tactics, seeking to link Obama to a voter fraud scheme and launching a string of personal attacks that backfired badly. In fact, nobody has been so far behind in mid-October and gone on to win an election, says Ewen MacAskill in The Guardian.
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McCain's delivery in recent weeks "oozing disdain" has been like that of Democratic candidate Howard Dean, whose campaign collapsed four years ago, says Klein. "In contrast, Obama has exuded caution, quiet confidence and calm", says Baldwin. But he's hardly invincible, says John Dickerson on the Slate. "He dodges questions by giving unrealistic answers" and has "overstated his abilities as a bipartisan dealmarker and truth teller".
Yet no matter how well McCain performs in this week's televised debate, he's unlikely to rattle his rival. While McCain is forced to devote his time to defending once-safe Republican territory, such as Virginia, Obama is resting up for the debate in New York, drowning out McCain with TV ads financed with larger campaign funds. "Under insane pressure as brutal a year on the stump as I've ever seen Obama has kept his head," says Klein.
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