Page last updated at 11:17 GMT, Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Last stand for outgunned McCain

By Kevin Connolly
BBC News, Washington

John McCain addresses supporters in Cleveland, Ohio
The US presidential elections are on 4 November

The trouble with cultivating the idea that you are good in adversity is that it only works if you have a convincing plan for extracting yourself from it.

It is starting to look as though presidential hopeful John McCain simply does not.

His supporters will remind you he has been on the ropes before and survived but as things stand he is losing this election.

A historian reminded me last week of the extent to which Harry Truman had been written off in 1948 before he overhauled Thomas Dewey in the closing days of campaigning.

But if John McCain wins it from here it seems to me that he should be compared to Lazarus not just Harry Truman.

With seven days to go before polling, the problems for Mr McCain remain pretty much as they have been all along.

He is the first Republican in many years to find himself outgunned financially and outmuscled on the ground.

Barack Obama has raised more than $603m (386m) and Mr McCain just over $380m (244m).

'Air war'

The effect of that is that wherever you go in America, you cannot switch on the TV without seeing Obama advertising.

The campaign has so much money that the adverts pop up in the middle of major sporting events, which candidates often cannot afford, and on digital cooking channels, where they often would not bother.

Viewers are being treated in the last few days to an ad in which Mr Obama talks about himself and his values and to endless commercials which hammer home the link between John McCain and President George W Bush.

This Democratic domination of the "Air War" will reach a curious climax on October 29 when several of the major broadcasting networks will air a 30 minute long Obama advert which has involved breaking into their regular schedules - and in the case of Fox, even delaying Game Six of the Baseball World Series.

The next week will also see the climax of a ground war in which the Obama camp seems to be on the point of another resounding victory.


This is all about having networks of volunteers in place winning the election in thousands of small towns and big-city precincts all over America.

For months, they have been registering voters, persuading doubters, and chasing-up waverers.

Mr McCain has not fired up an army of his own and you cannot win without one

Now, with early voting already under way in more than 30 states, like infantry soldiers going over the top, their moment has come.

Now their task is to make sure people know where polling stations are, have a lift to get them there if needed and understand the voting processes in their state - a lot of them are rather complicated.

In the last few weeks I have been in Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia, New York, Florida, Kentucky and Pennsylvania and in most of those places it looks like Obama has more people on the ground and a much tighter and more disciplined operation to get out the vote.

One key to all this is the use of the internet.


The Obama camp has been brilliant at harvesting names and e-mail addresses from anyone who has ever had any kind of contact with them, and then brilliant at exploiting that database to raise funds and recruit volunteers.

But there is plenty of old-fashioned spade work in all this too.

Consider this: Ohio has 88 counties and in 2004 the Democratic Candidate John Kerry had offices in 16 of them.

That effort was almost, but not quite, enough to win him the state.

Obama has 88 offices - one in each of those 88 counties - all of them working on getting out the vote in a state which could decide who wins the White House.

When George W Bush won he had Karl Rove behind him orchestrating an army of volunteers and an inter-church network that provided a kind of neural pathway for Republican thought.

Mr McCain has not fired up an army of his own and you cannot win without one.

It is a measure of Republican desperation that they are starting to use the argument that America should not place the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives all in the hands of the Democrats at the same time because that would leave Barack Obama free to exercise power without checks and balances.

It is the kind of argument you deploy only when you are trying to limit the scale of the loss and have given up all hope of winning.

A former Bush speechwriter David Frum - who is admittedly no great fan of McCain - has even suggested that Republicans should stop throwing good money after bad on the presidential race and start to focus resources on limiting Democratic gains in the Senate.

Hardly the kind of thing the old warrior McCain wants to hear on the eve of his greatest battle - but nothing compared to the vitriol he will hear from the Right if he goes down to resounding defeat next week and takes other conservative candidates for the House and Senate with him.

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