In the third debate, John McCain peppered his answers with old bromides like "redistribution of wealth" and "socialism" and, in a turn that most people considered damaging to his chances with the women vote, went on a brief tirade about abortion, gesturing scare quotes as he sarcastically intoned "health of the mother." When asked about the racist and eliminationist comments being spouted by his supporters in recent rallies, he defended his supporters vigorously, calling them patriotic Americans, not making even the slightest concession that things have gotten a little out of hand.
Sarah Palin commits another apparent gaffe a couple of days later, referring to North Carolina as one of "the pro-America areas of this great nation."
Then, two days after that, McCain himself makes the same mistake in Virginia, saying that, even though he's behind in the state as a whole, he's winning in "real Virginia."
And then today, McCain takes a racially charge turn for the worst, deriding Obama's tax plan as "welfare."
Yet despite all these supposed "gaffes," McCain has actually gained ground in the last 5 days, gaining from -12 to -4 in the indy vote and gaining 6 points among Republicans in the Research 2000/Daily Kos poll.
Can you see what's going on here?
It looks to me like the Hate Talk Express has decided to try to win the way Bush did it in '04: focus like a laser on conservatives. Return to the hard right rhetoric of the primary, rile them up, scare the hell out of them, and send them to the polls in the highest numbers you can. Use fear and hate to close the enthusiasm gap, rely on the high turnout rate of key conservative demographics and hope that once again blacks, young people, and women-- Obama's strongest demographics-- don't show up in high enough numbers to make up the difference. A judicious sprinkling of voter suppression efforts should be just enough to tip the scales.
There is obviously a case to be made that this tactic won't be enough. For one, Democrats have registered millions more new voters than the Republicans, so there may be too few conservatives put him over the top. Also, at the moment the enthusiasm gap is still much wider than it was in '04. Then there's the issue of Obama's wicked ground game and huge money advantage. McCain's tactic could backfire in a way that Bush's didn't; for instance, there's a chance that his "real VA" remark could boost turnout among Obama voters and leaners in Virginia incensed at the slight (say what you will about W, but he would never have made that mistake). There's the economy. There's Sarah Palin, whose potentially proximity to the presidency scares the bejeesus out of a lot of people.
And, of course, there's Barack's superior strategizing. Powell's endorsement was rolled out at the best possible moment to blunt McCain's case to conservatives, and he's been far more effective than any Democrat I've ever seen at working the media. McCain, on the other hand, can't even keep his own operatives from hyping a Powell endorsement before people leave work for the weekend.