In the Washington offices of the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Congressional Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee, anxious staff members spend more times polishing their resumes than working towards the November election.
While claiming publicly they will "fight to the end," the GOP is in full retreat, sensing a landslide that will not only sweep Barack Obama into the White House but will add to Democratic majorities in Congress.
One RNC staff member circulates a daily email called "The Death Watch." It contains the latest poll numbers that show GOP Presidential nominee John McCain falling further and further behind.
"It’s over," says one angry Republican operative. "McCain has blown it."
Dan Balz and Shailagh Murray report in The Washington Post:
Republican John McCain may have stayed on the offensive during his final debate with Democrat Barack Obama, but for the last 19 days of the presidential campaign he will be playing nothing but defense.
The global financial crisis, coupled with Obama’s steady performance through the three presidential debates, has left McCain with an extremely difficult path to the White House. Absent his ability to pick off any state won by the Democrats four years ago, he must prevent Obama from winning any of half a dozen Republican states that now appear vulnerable.
Republican strategists see trouble almost everywhere, facing the prospect of not only losing the White House but seeing Democratic majorities in the House and Senate grow as well. That could force a competition for resources during the final weeks, but strategists said a McCain comeback would be most helpful in relieving some of the pressure on other GOP candidates.
"The Republican brand’s in trouble for all these guys," said Alex Castellanos, a party strategist. "It seems like an eternity ago, but it was only a few weeks, that the Republican brand was defined as populist, outsiders, McCain-Palin who are going to change Washington. Now we’re back to a Republican brand that is George Bush, economy, and Wall Street and Washington insiders. That’s hurt everybody."
The Republican National Committee’s independent-expenditure ad unit, which is not legally permitted to coordinate with McCain, will spend $18 million over 18 days in just eight states: Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia, Indiana, Missouri and Colorado. All but Pennsylvania voted Republican in 2004.
Without a shift of voters back toward McCain, Republican candidates and party leaders may be forced in the next two weeks to confront the question of whether they should move more money to targeted congressional races to hold down anticipated losses in the House or Senate, or continue to try to hold the line for McCain in the Republican battlegrounds.
Mike Barnicle, writing in The Huffington Post, is more direct:
Now, with less than three weeks to the end, he comes to the country staggering toward defeat, his pride and honor certainly diminished by the incoherence of his campaign and the absurdity of the choice he agreed to when it came to picking someone who would share a national ticket charged with talking, coaxing, massaging the country through a tough and turbulent time. And as the clock winds toward the conclusion, America looks and listens to a different John McCain than the man who captured so many hearts when he first ran for president, only eight years ago.
That guy is MIA, missing in action, held captive by ideologues who dominate his strategy sessions and what is left of the Republican party. So John McCain sat there on the stage at Hofstra Wednesday night, looking and sounding like an angry old man, bitter at the lack of traction — or belief — in his candidacy, uncomfortable with what he has allowed himself to become: a cranky senior citizen seething with resentment over how his glory days are lost in the long shadow cast by youth and change.
It is a sad story: a proud and independent man permits a handful of advisers to take his hard-earned reputation and alter it to such an extent that the original is now hard to recognize, nearly invisible behind a curtain of cynical ads and the preposterous pronouncements of a woman whose candidacy is an insult to intelligence.
Perhaps the footnote to McCain’s campaign lies in his choice of "Joe the Plumber" as the centerpiece of his last debate. Write Carrie Budoff and Amie Parnes in the Politico:
John McCain hung his final presidential debate performance on an Ohio plumber who campaign aides never vetted.
A day after making Joseph Wurzelbacher famous, referencing him in the debate almost two dozen times as someone who would pay higher taxes under Barack Obama, McCain learned the fine print Thursday on the plumber’s not-so-tidy personal story: He owes back taxes. He is not a licensed plumber. And it turns out that Wurzelbacher makes less than $250,000 a year, which means he would receive a tax cut if Obama were elected president.
McCain likes to say that he isn’t George W. Bush – and in this case of bungled public relations, it is clear he is not. The famously-disciplined Bush campaign operation would likely have found the perfect anonymous citizen to illustrate a policy proposal, rather than spontaneously wrap itself around an unknown entity with so many asterisks.
While the arc of Wurzelbacher’s breakneck trip through the news cycle – from private citizen to insta-celebrity to political target – offers a curious insight into the political media culture, it also appears to offer a glimpse into the McCain campaign’s on-the-fly decisionmaking style.