30 days out the ball is in McCain’s court (Update)

With just a mere 30 days to go to Election Day, the ball is in McCain’s court to make some moves and regain ground in the polls along with the all-important swing states. Luckily for McCain, he’s got two more debates to make a stand in before voters head to the polls. On the other hand, unfortunately for McCain, and Obama, they have two more debates to possibly perform bad in also, the sword cuts both ways.

Polls are in Obama’s favor at this point as he leads, on average, by about 5.9% according to RealClearPolitics.

Report from Yahoo News:

WASHINGTON – One month before Election Day, Barack Obama sits atop battleground polls in a shrinking playing field, the economic crisis is breaking his way and the Democrat has made progress toward winning the White House.

The onus is on Republican John McCain to turn the race around under exceptionally challenging circumstances — and his options are limited.

McCain’s advisers say the Arizona senator will ramp up his attacks in the coming days with a tougher, more focused message describing “who Obama is,” including questioning his character, “liberal” record and “too risky” proposals in advertising and appearances.

Obama’s advisers, in turn, say he will argue that McCain is unable to articulate an economic vision that’s different from President Bush’s. In a new push, the Illinois senator is calling McCain’s health care plan “radical.”

Now that the vice presidential debate between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin is over, the contest returns to being entirely about Obama and McCain and likely will stay that way until Nov. 4. The rivals meet Tuesday in their second of three debates as the campaign enters its next unpredictable chapter.

Interviews with party insiders across the country Friday showed this: Democrats are optimistic of victory if nervous over whether Obama can hold his advantage while Republicans are worried that the race may be moving out of reach though hopeful that McCain will beat the odds as he did in the GOP primary.

Both sides note that plenty can change in one month — and they’re right.

“Very confident, yet not overly so,” said Ohio Democratic Party chief Chris Redfern, who said the financial turmoil is dreadful for the country but “politically it’s advantageous” for Obama.

South Carolina GOP Chairman Katon Dawson said that given McCain’s standing, “I’d be concerned at this time, but I would never count this guy out. He’s got the political hide of an alligator.”

Report from the CBS News ’08 notebook on what happened this week:

Election historians often note the most movement happens in the last 72 hours before election day as the 10% to 15% of “undecideds” finally make up their mind, and change it like 8 more times before they actually cast their vote.

At this point, McCain has become the “underdog” and his campaign is painting him in that light. Most likely it’s a planned strategy since people like supporting the “underdog” in most cases.

So the bottom line here is that Obama needs to keep doing what he’s doing, which is staying on his message about the economy and assailing McCain’s policies. McCain, on the other hand, needs to work harder at convincing voters they need to reject Obama’s philosophies and go with a more free market approach, a task which grows more difficult as the media piles on the current financial news.

We’ll have more analysis tomorrow following the Sunday political shows when candidates and surrogates will be out in force.

Update

It does appear that McCain will be retooling is strategy for the remaining month of campaigning.

Report from the WaPo:

Sen. John McCain and his Republican allies are readying a newly aggressive assault on Sen. Barack Obama’s character, believing that to win in November they must shift the conversation back to questions about the Democrat’s judgment, honesty and personal associations, several top Republicans said.

With just a month to go until Election Day, McCain’s team has decided that its emphasis on the senator’s biography as a war hero, experienced lawmaker and straight-talking maverick is insufficient to close a growing gap with Obama. The Arizonan’s campaign is also eager to move the conversation away from the economy, an issue that strongly favors Obama and has helped him to a lead in many recent polls.

“We’re going to get a little tougher,” a senior Republican operative said, indicating that a fresh batch of television ads is coming. “We’ve got to question this guy’s associations. Very soon. There’s no question that we have to change the subject here,” said the operative, who was not authorized to discuss strategy and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Being so aggressive has risks for McCain if it angers swing voters, who often say they are looking for candidates who offer a positive message about what they will do. That could be especially true this year, when frustration with Washington politics is acute and a desire for specifics on how to fix the economy and fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is strong.

Robert Gibbs, a top Obama adviser, dismissed the new McCain strategy. “This isn’t 1988,” he said. “I don’t think the country is going to be distracted by the trivial.” He added that Obama will continue to focus on the economy, saying that Americans will remain concerned about the country’s economic troubles even as the Wall Street crisis eases somewhat.

Moments after the House of Representatives approved a bailout package for Wall Street on Friday afternoon, the McCain campaign released a television ad that challenges Obama’s honesty and asks, “Who is Barack Obama?” The ad alleges that “Senator Obama voted 94 times for higher taxes. Ninety-four times. He’s not truthful on taxes.” The charge that Obama voted 94 times for higher taxes has been called misleading by independent fact-checkers, who have noted that the majority of those votes were on nonbinding budget resolutions.

A senior campaign official called the ad “just the beginning” of commercials that will “strike the new tone” in the campaign’s final days. The official said the “aggressive tone” will center on the question of “whether this guy is ready to be president.”

No surprise there, McCain has yet to pop his “October surprise.”

Hat tip to JD in comments for alerting me to this story.

Update

Video report on McCain’s attack plan from CBS News: