Starting Gate: Cape Fear

Watch where they go not what they say and you'll know what the state of the campaign is. Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia and, yes, North Carolina, are the states seeing all the action lately. And it's not Barack Obama or Joe Biden in North Carolina, it's John McCain who will be stopping by the Cape Fear Community College in Wilmington, North Carolina today – his first trip to the state since June. And that's after spending more time this morning in Virginia.

That's not the kind of itinerary Republicans want to see with just three weeks left in a political environment with little good news anywhere. The latest national poll, from the Washington Post and ABC News, holds more bad news for John McCain. Obama has not only opened up a 10-point lead in the poll, but it appears McCain's aggressiveness in the past week on the William Ayres front (and the tone of crowds at his rallies) may have backfired – Obama's favorability has risen to 64 percent. McCain's has fallen to 52 percent.

And then there's the economy. After indications from some associated with the McCain campaign that there may be some new policy proposals (specifically on taxes) the New York Times is reporting that such a strategy has been shelved for the moment. Why? The article points to "internal confusion" in the campaign.

McCain promised volunteers in Virginia yesterday renewed vigor in the closing days of the campaign. Predicting that he would "whip" Obama's "you-know-what" in the final presidential debate this Wednesday, McCain said he'd be hitting the trail "24/7." He acknowledged the reality. "We're a couple points down, OK, nationally, but we're right in this game," he said. "The economy has hurt us a little bit in the last week or two, but in the last few days we've seen it come back up because they want experience, they want knowledge and they want vision. We'll give that to America."

The Arizona Republican knows what it is to come from behind after having been counted out by the experts. But doing so in such a short period of time, with outside factors running against him and on a field of play working in his opponent's favor will be the biggest challenge of his political career.

Around The Track

  • Obama will lay out his economic rescue plan in Toledo, Ohio, today.
  • Bill and Hillary Clinton joined Joe Biden in Scranton, Pennsylvania this weekend where the New York Senator warned of overconfidence. "You know, sure, the polls show Barack and Joe ahead now, and that's good news, but I don't pay much attention to polls," she said. "Nobody should be lulled into any false sense of security." CBS News' Ryan Corsaro has all the details.
  • "First Dude" Todd Palin kicked off a snowmobile race in New Hampshire this weekend, part of what the Boston Herald calls his "grassroots campaign."
  • After several weeks of being hammered by the host for cancelling an earlier appearance, McCain is slated to return to the "Late Show" on Thursday.