Tue, Oct 28, 2008 - Page 7 News List

McCain banks on close vote even as blame game starts

PARTY INQUEST More key Republicans are dissecting John McCain’s campaign strategy, openly saying he’s lost the race


Senator John McCain shrugged aside daunting poll figures on Sunday to claim he was placed to win next week’s presidential election even as an inquest was beginning within the Republican Party.

Interviewed on NBC’s Meet the Press, McCain dismissed the polls that showed huge leads for Senator Barack Obama and said he sensed the race tightening.

He predicted a “late night” next Tuesday, suggesting the voting would be close enough to have to wait for the final counts in some states: “This has been a very close race, and I believe I will win it.”

But in a sign of how much of a mismatch the campaign has become, Obama, speaking on Saturday in Albuquerque, New Mexico — won in 2004 by US President George W. Bush — attracted a crowd of 45,000. McCain, speaking in the same city the same day drew only about 1,500 onlookers.

Some Republicans, breaking with the convention of staying silent until the votes are in, are already dissecting his campaign strategy and acknowledging openly they believe the race to be lost.

A blame-game has begun among McCain staff over responsibility for strategic blunders, in particular the confused and often conflicting messages the campaign has sent out over the past two months.

At McCain’s campaign headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, demoralized staff and volunteers listened in near-silence to invocations from senior campaign figures saying all was not lost over the weekend.

David Frum, Bush’s speechwriter, who wrote the “Axis of Evil” speech, suggested in an opinion piece for the Washington Post on Sunday that the party shifted resources from the presidential race “that is almost certainly lost” to Senate ones so that there would be a base on which to build a Republican revival after the election.

“A beaten party needs a base from which to recover,” Frum wrote.

Mark McKinnon, a former McCain campaign adviser, wrote for the Daily Beast Web site: “The most popular parlor game in Washington DC these days is the bludgeoning of the McCain campaign.”

McKinnon said the McCain strategist Steve Schmidt, said to be behind the character attacks on Obama, and colleagues, had run a good campaign and “taken McCain further than he had any reasonable right to, given the political climate.”

He said the election “ain’t over yet” and that McCain might “have a couple of barrel rolls left.”

McCain now faces an important decision on the final days of the campaign.

If he does assume he will lose he may want to be remembered as having fought a dignified race in the end — or he could throw everything at Obama.

On Sunday he pounced on a Reuters/Zogby poll which put him only 5 points behind Obama (who is on 49 percent), saying that was evidence that the race was closer than indicated by other polls giving Obama double-digit leads.

Obama picked up on a comment by McCain on Meet the Press, in which he had said he shared a common philosophy with Bush.

Speaking in Denver, Obama, who has sought to tie McCain down as a continuation of Bush, said: “I guess that was John McCain finally giving us a little straight talk, and owning up to the fact that he and George Bush actually have a whole lot in common.”

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