Image: McCain
Carolyn Kaster  /  AP
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., greets supporters outside the Hilton New York before boarding their motorcade in New York, Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2008.
By
msnbc.com
updated 10/15/2008 2:20:15 PM ET 2008-10-15T18:20:15
ANALYSIS

The markets may have tumbled here in Manhattan, but New Yorkers still know how to evaluate a stock.

So, it’s worth noting what one of Rudy Giuliani’s friends said to me during dinner at Elaine’s Tuesday night: “He’s finished.”

She was talking about John McCain’s presidential prospects. Interestingly, she had just come from a spirited McCain fundraiser.

It’s worth mentioning that Rudy won’t be in town for Wednesday’s debate. He’s performed dutifully in the “spin room” for McCain at other events, but wasn’t able to find the time for the Hofstra showdown.

New Yorkers call it like they see it. And even before this latest New York Times poll (Barack Obama up by 14 points), they knew they wanted to dump McCain stock.

And so it goes for McCain in the final days of this campaign. It’s always third and long in his world. Now it’s fourth and long with the clock running out.

Staying in the game
Wednesday is not so much about the race suddenly turning around — which would be difficult — as it is about staying in the game for the final three weeks.

For my pre-debate research I went Elaine’s, the famous Upper East Side bistro. It’s a fascinating barometer of the New York zeitgeist.

Video: Previews for the final debate The room seemed to think that McCain may be finished — but many diners appeared convinced that there is a hidden, subterranean anti-Obama vote that will show up on Election Day.

Here’s the tactical question for McCain: does he appeal directly and publicly to that hidden sentiment in tonight’s televised debate?

One theory is if he really believes that Obama is the riskiest presidential candidate ever — a menace to America’s future, as he’s said before — then McCain has no choice but to say so, urgently and insistently, at the Hofstra debate.

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McCain has to put on the table everything he that he, Gov. Sarah Palin, the RNC and his own supporters have been muttering or yelling about for weeks on the campaign trail.

You know the litany: retired Chicago terrorist Bill Ayers; various Windy City politicians and the Chicago Way of doing business; felonious friend Tony Reszko; the allegedly nefarious street people at ACORN; and Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who seems to have disappeared from the face of the earth.

The feeling at Elaine’s was that if McCain isn’t willing to do that, then he deserves the fate that — the hidden anti-vote notwithstanding — awaits him.

What will he do?
No one knows what McCain will do. And that’s not because he’s deft at hiding his strategy. It’s that he has so many. In fact, I’ve never covered such a schizophrenic campaign.

McCain toggles back and forth in his political philosophy constantly. One minute he’s sunny, non-judgmental McCain. The next, he’s all storm clouds and accusations about Obama.

But the American people are ready to vote. The percentage of undecideds is down below 10 percent.

The most significant — and, for McCain the most damning — number is not the horse race, but the percentage of voters in that New York Times poll who say that he “understands” their “economic circumstances.” Less than half (48 percent) say McCain does. Nearly three quarters (73 percent) say Obama does.

It’s probably too late for McCain to turn that number around. His only shot now may be to sow more doubts about Obama.

And if he's going to do it, he's got to come out swinging at Hofstra. They will be watching at Elaine’s, but their attention span is short.

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