Struggling McCain Debuts Comeback Speech

Three weeks before Election Day, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Monday is unveiling what his aides call a more forceful new stump speech in which he portrays himself as a scrappy fighter on the comeback trail against an opponent who’s already “measuring the drapes” in the Oval Office.

“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.”

Allies are calling this “hitting the ‘reset’ button” on the campaign, with McCain reemerging after a long Sunday strategy session with a feisty tack that uses candor and humor, at a time when his rallies have become known for raucous rage and clumsy attacks.

But it’s more like hitting the panic button. McCain is appearing Monday in Virginia and North Carolina – two states that are usually safe for Republicans in presidential races, and that he should have put away long ago. But Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) is pouring visits and staff into the former Confederacy, and he has caught McCain in many Southern polls.

Nationally, the Real Clear Politics average has Obama up 7.3 points. A Washington Post-ABC News Poll out Monday morning gives Obama a yawning 10-point lead, which a Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby poll shows Obama up just four points.

"Let me give you the state of the race today,” McCain says in his new speech. “We have 22 days to go. We’re six points down. …

“What America needs in this hour is a fighter; someone who puts all his cards on the table and trusts the judgment of the American people. I come from a long line of McCains who believed that to love America is to fight for her. I have fought for you most of my life. There are other ways to love this country, but I’ve never been the kind to do it from the sidelines.”

The remarks reflect the graceful cadences of Mark Salter, McCain’s longtime aide and co-author, and suggest that the senator plans to fight without personally going viciously negative in the final days. He can leave that to the television advertisements.

The reference to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is part of a new Republican effort to warn voters of the consequences of having on party dominate all of Washington, as Democrats would if Obama won in a landslide that helped his party rack up wider congressional margins.

The McCain campaign is beset from all sides. William Kristol, the influential conservative commentary, has a column in today’s New York Times with the headline “Fire the Campaign” and the lead: “It’s time for John McCain to fire his campaign. He has nothing to lose. His campaign is totally overmatched by Obama’s.”

Over the weekend, McCain advisers said he planned to announce new economic policies, including tax cuts designed to encourage investors to return to the markets. But after a tense strategy meeting on Sunday, McCain had not signed off on any new announcements, to the consternation of some key supporters who said he needs to do more to show command on the economy, the top issue on voters’ minds.

The third and final presidential debate is Wednesday at Hofstra University, the largest public school on Long Island, N.Y. After that high-stakes encounter moderated by Bob Schieffer of CBS News, McCain’s changes of changing the dynamics of the race fall off a cliff.

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