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The End From the Beginning for McCain

In the closing days of the campaign, the question I’m asked most frequently is: When did Sen. John McCain’s effort begin to unravel? My answer: “What date did he secure the nomination?”

From the very start, the McCain organization was flawed in its dealings with the traveling press corps. That may sound self-serving, but it’s an important indicator of how the campaign has handled other matters — like picking a running mate.

The Obama campaign has had a central and accessible message keeper in Bill Burton. For the vast majority of reporters dealing with the McCain press shop, it has been akin to watching amateur hour at the Apollo.

This has been particularly true on the campaign plane, where the central message keepers have been Mark Salter, longtime McCain friend and speechwriter, and senior aide Nicole Wallace. Both have been helpful, particularly in waving off stories that weren’t true. But neither — nor anyone else, for that matter — could direct you to surrogates or connect you to people involved in the campaign. That’s what press secretaries are supposed to do — help you do your job.

This is not to say that the Obama campaign has been perfect in this regard. The organization’s discipline has too often meant a lack of access to the candidate, which has infuriated many reporters. For those who say the “media” are in love with Sen. Barack Obama, spend some time with reporters in a bar after a day on the trail. Half a beer in, you’ll realize the supposed gushing is largely a myth propagated by the likes of Fox News’ Sean Hannity and other conservatives.

While the Obama campaign is certainly not overly forthcoming, it provided a level of secondary access that a reporter could count on. Senior adviser Robert Gibbs, for instance, was always willing to spend a few minutes to talk with you, and press secretary Jennifer Psaki proved invaluable in helping you get what you needed when you needed it. At the very least, the Obama folks always knew where your bags were and made every effort to get you on and off the trail with as little hassle as possible. While a small matter, it showed the campaign’s superb attention to detail and efficiency.

The race is certainly not over. But should McCain be able to pull out out one last comeback, it won’t be because his organization made it possible. If anything, he would win in spite of it.

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