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McCain Attemps to Turn the Tide in Virginia

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — I arrived here in the late evening Sunday, in advance of a scheduled McCain-Palin rally this morning at the Virginia Beach Convention Center. A very informal survey of local businesses reveals this town embodies Sen. John McCain’s problems in this state.

My hotel, next door to the convention center, was adorned with a large “McCain-Palin” sign. I walked around the corner to have dinner at a nice little bistro called Croc’s (where they make a dynamite seafood risotto) and found numerous signs on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant, endorsing various Democrats — including former Gov. Mark Warner for Senate and Sen. Barack Obama for president.

According to RealClearPolitics, Obama leads by an average of 6.3 percentage points in recent polls in Virginia, a state that hasn’t voted for a Democrat for president since 1964.

However, the data appears to be trending even more in Obama’s favor — four of the six most recent surveys listed found Obama leads by eight points or more.

So, with just 22 days until the general election, McCain and Palin find themselves campaigning hard in a state many used to consider a sure thing for Republicans.

After the rally here, Palin will move on to Richmond for another rally this afternoon. In a further sign of the zeitgeist, McCain will move on to North Carolina — a state that hasn’t voted for a Democrat since Jimmy Carter in 1976.

With such little time remaining, one has to wonder if the McCain campaign is now playing catch-up. The Wall Street Journal reports that Obama, his wife, Michelle, and Sen. Joe Biden have made nearly twice as many appearances in swing states as the McCains and Palin.

In the five weeks since the fall campaign officially began, Sen. Obama, his wife, Michelle, and vice-presidential nominee Joe Biden have appeared at a total of 95 separate events in states that both sides are contesting.

Sen. John McCain and his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, have appeared at 55 events in those areas, with Cindy McCain, the nominee’s wife, adding only one more to the total, according to a Wall Street Journal tally based on schedules provided by the campaigns.

The gap makes a difference in the amount of press that each ticket gets in critical markets — and is mirrored by a similar disparity in TV advertising. Sen. Obama outspent Sen. McCain and the Republican National Committee on ads in 15 states for the week ended Oct. 4, according to the Wisconsin Advertising Project, an initiative at the University of Wisconsin. The Republicans spent more in just two states.

The effect: The Democrats are being seen much more often, in free news coverage and in paid advertising, in the states that will determine the winner.

With Bill Kristol calling for McCain to “fire his campaign” and basically start over from scratch in his column in The New York Times today, McCain reportedly will try a different tack: acknowledge the tough position, but remind voters that McCain relishes the role of the underdog.

From Politico’s Mike Allen:

“The national media has written us off,” McCain says in excerpts released by the campaign. “Senator Obama is measuring the drapes, and planning with Speaker Pelosi and Senator Reid to raise taxes, increase spending, take away your right to vote by secret ballot in labor elections, and concede defeat in Iraq. But they forgot to let you decide. My friends, we’ve got them just where we want them.”

Is this the last-ditch strategy? The New York Times reports that, despite an assurance over the weekend from Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) that a comprehensive new tax plan would be forthcoming, there are no new economic proposals on the docket. In addition, McCain advisers “did not know why Graham said that.”

This kind of amateurish confusion this late in the game must not be comforting to already-disgruntled McCain supporters.

Without the infusion of new ideas, McCain has just one debate remaining to shift the momentum. If his candidacy rests on a change in style rather than substance to turn this thing around, it may be too little too late.

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