2:30 p.m. ET: The debate is less than seven hours away. What music does each candidate put on to get fired up before going on stage? Eminem? The Superman theme? If you know the answers, drop them in the comments section below.
What do we know? That John McCain would like this race, and tonight's debate, to be a referendum on Barack Obama, not the economy, the Bush administration or the direction of the country (all bad, in case you were unaware). Instead, Dan Balz tells us, tonight's debate is about McCain and whether he can effectively turn the tide on economic issues while successfully serving as the change agent voters seem to crave.
11 a.m. ET: It wasn't long ago that congressional Republicans were crowing that John McCain's nomination gave them the best chance to win in tough House and Senate races. If that's still true, how badly would those downballot candidates be doing if Mitt Romney or Mike Huckabee were the nominee?
The question arises after a quick glance at how those Hill Republicans are doing in their own campaign efforts. The short answer -- not good. Stu Rothenberg is out with a new column today that paints a very grim picture for the GOP. In short, Rothenberg "now can’t rule out 60 seats" for Senate Democrats after Election Day, while in the House, "Democrats are now likely to net at least 20 seats, with gains closer to 30 quite possible." Ouch.
Even more daunting for House and Senate Republicans is that it appears now that their fates are tied to the economy, not McCain. So even if the Arizonan is able to stage a comeback in the presidential race -- via a decisive debate win or a new Obama scandal, for example -- that may not trickle down to help other GOP candidates. As for what really might help them -- an economic rebound -- that doesn't look likely to come anytime soon.
8 a.m. ET: Another debate is upon us tonight, and it's hard to imagine the landscape being much starker for John McCain.
It's as though the nation's media outlets had a competition to paint the worst portrait of his electoral chances this morning. The WSJ poll has him down 6 points, Reuters has him down 3 (actually not so bad), WaPo puts McCain down 6 in Ohio, two surveys have him trailing by double-digits in Virginia and the Casper Cowpoke has McCain losing Wyoming by 10 points. (Okay, that last one's fake, but would anything surprise you at this point?)
There are also more examples of the "map is getting worse for the GOP" stories. How can McCain make it better at the debate? He can continue the effort, put into overdrive yesterday, to paint Barack Obama as downright scary: dangerous, irresponsible, hangs out with terrorists, takes money from foreign donors, and so on. How will Obama respond tonight?
The economy continues to quake, ensuring an ongoing focus on that issue at the expense of all others. On the policy front, we've also seen a spate of stories looking at McCain's health care plan, mostly not in a flattering light. And Sarah Palin continues her post-debate barnstorming today, hitting events in Florida and North Carolina while her ticket-mate is holed up prepping for tonight.
October 7, 2008; 8:00 AM ET
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