John McCain was at his best this third debate. He was fighting tooth and nail to change the game, and so the base loved it. But Obama's momentum is so strong now that pundits are losing their objectivity, and unwilling to concede that Obama really wasn't all that spectacular in this debate. He didn't slip up, but I'm not sure that his performance merited the 20 point victory that polls are assigning him. For better or worse, democracy and public opinion polls institutionalize herd-mentality. The stampede is headed Left.
Joe the Plumber was at the heart of his debate. Not Average Joe, mind you, but Plumber Joe; registered Republican white male voter living in Ohio. Yes, the precise demographic the McCain campaign is scrambling to retain as the Obama machine wages war all over the electoral map. Not content with a ten point lead in Virginia - a state that has not gone Democratic since 1964 - and a tie in North Carolina, now there is talk of the Obama campaign moving resources into West Virginia and back to Georgia. This is a relentless, aggressive, war machine looking not for a victory, but a routing. Forced to defend his base at every turn, Senator McCain has scarcely spent any time addressing or courting independents this election season. Cornered and embattled, the McCain campaign has not many ways left to 270. His fate is akin to threading a needle, as Karl Rove put it in the Wall Street Journal.
Contingency may well be all McCain can hope for now. The fundamentals are in place - an unpopular Republican president, an unpopular war, and an economic crisis - a toxic trifecta that even Karl Rove, Mark Hanna, and Martin Van Buren ("the magician") combined cannot make disappear.