To belabor the boxing metaphor, John McCain may have won Wednesday night’s debate on points but it clearly wasn’t enough to reverse his campaign, now staggering in the late rounds.

All Barack Obama had to do was play rope-a-dope, bob-and-weave and if he took a blow not show it. Obama was cool, cerebral and unflappable, frustrating the more visceral McCain.

McCain peeled himself off the mat once before and came back from the brink of a TKO to win the Republican presidential nomination. OK, enough boxing metaphors but the cable news analysts will do that to you. Time is running out on McCain. They say that a week can be a year in politics but it can also be just seven days.

Obama’s standings in the polls, especially in the battleground states that will prove decisive, seem to improve with each day. Meanwhile, what seemed to have been a bold and daring gamble by McCain — the choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate — is proving a near fatal error. She was too inexperienced at national politics to be "unleashed," as her supporters urge, and the proof of that is that while McCain was in the debate of his life, Palin was in Maine, far from the major media markets, in search of a single electoral vote.

With the financial meltdown now the single issue of the campaign, McCain must be having second thoughts about dismissing Mitt Romney, successful equity fund manager, savior of the ’02 Winter Olympics and former governor, as a potential running mate.

This last debate was perhaps the best of the three and the best format, sitting close enough to each other so that they could be comfortably framed together in the same TV shot. It was not the stiff formality of the podiums of the first debate or the aimless roaming of the platform of the second.

The debate format has its weaknesses. It’s too easy for the candidates to glide over the flaws in their own campaign promises and misrepresent their opponents’. The Associated Press Fact Check story, in which the wire service examines the accuracy of the candidates’ statements, ran to over 1,400 words.

But given the length and intensity of this campaign there isn’t too much about McCain and Obama that a reasonably curious voter couldn’t quickly find out.

And so with the final debate we were left with a curious cast of character metaphors on the stage figuratively waving at us — Joe the Plumber, unlicensed as it turns out; Bill the Terrorist, "an old washed up terrorist," according to McCain; Hockey Moms, like Soccer Moms, only with better makeup; Main Street Americans, presumably sturdier and more authentic than Side Street Americans or High Rise Americans; and Joe Six-Pack, who hauled out of his neighborhood tavern only during election cycles.

It would be nice to say we will miss them come November 5. We won’t.