Starting Gate: Hogging The Oxygen

What can $150 million raised in September do for a campaign? Well, for starters, it allows Barack Obama to put the pedal to the metal in the final week of the campaign and make it much more difficult for John McCain to stage what at this point would have to be considered a comeback.

One-day-at-a-time thinking starts to grow in magnitude when there are just a handful of them left and Obama's financial situation is helping him to suck a little of the oxygen out of the dwindling time. The Democratic nominee will air a 30-minute television ad on three networks tonight – CBS, NBC and Fox. Little official is known about the content of the ad but it's the first time a major party candidate has taken such a chunk of expensive airtime (Ross Perot did it in 1992).

The ad is likely to draw a large amount of speculation and attention throughout the day and heading into Thursday. On top of that, Bill Clinton will appear with Obama for the first time in the campaign – another sure headline-grabber – and the candidate is slated to hit the Daily Show as well (for those younger voters who might miss the news).

John McCain's campaign has certainly shown a penchant for stealing away some of the attention Obama gets (remember their "celebrity" ads launched amidst Obama's foreign trip this summer). But with time so short, the bar of "surprises" rises ever higher and the risk of appearing gimmicky grows.

The timing could hardly be better for Obama to rev things up as glimmers of hope are starting to pop up from McCain's standpoint. A strategy memo from McCain's lead pollster Bill McInturff provides some optimistic nuggets for McCain's prospects and claiming that the Republican has "made impressive strides over the last week," in their polling numbers. "As other public polls begin to show Senator Obama dropping below 50%," McInturff writes, "and the margin over McCain beginning to approach margin of error with a week left, all signs say we are headed to an election that may easily be too close to call by next Tuesday."

McInturff says McCain has been gaining strength among key voting groups like non-college men, rural voters, "soft" Democrats and "Walmart moms" as well as experiencing a "pop" among Independent voters. The sunny outlook is tempered a bit by McInturff's prediction that turnout is likely to reach record numbers (something generally thought to benefit Obama), but he also predicts that the remaining undecided voters will break heavily for McCain, as they did for Hillary Clinton in the last two months of the Democratic primary.

It's the kind of race assessment you expect from just about any campaign but the race has tightened just a tad in the last couple of days. But momentum is an important factor in presidential campaigns and Obama's strategy is aimed at trying to make sure McCain doesn't get any.

Around The Track

  • A new Cronkite/Eight poll shows McCain with just a 2-point lead in his home state of Arizona, leading Obama 46 percent to 44 percent.

  • A new series of AP/GfK polls show Obama with a lead in four states carried by President Bush in 2004 – Ohio, Nevada, Colorado and Virginia – and essentially tied in two more – North Carolina and Florida.

  • The Washington Post reports that the Obama campaign is allowing the use of pre-paid credit cards for donations that "could potentially be used to evade limits on how much an individual is legally allowed to give or to mask a contributor's identity."

  • Conservative leaders are planning a post-election strategy session to plot where the movement goes from here, whether McCain wins or loses, the Politico reports.
    • Vaughn Ververs

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