Starting Gate: Plugging Leaks

The rush to find out every detail in the life of "Joe The Plumber" may have dominated the political discussion yesterday but John McCain's campaign has many more, and much bigger, leaks to worry about.

A look at the where the candidates are at today tells you about all you need to know about the state of this race. The presidential and vice presidential candidates will fan out across Virginia, Florida, Ohio, Indiana, New Mexico and Nevada. What do all those states have in common? They were all states won by President Bush in 2004 and they're all part of the incredibly shrinking battleground for 2008.

Michigan was once dreamed of by Republicans as a battleground state but no more. McCain's campaign continues to hold out hope for Iowa (which went GOP in '04) and Wisconsin but they appear to be the only ones who think they have a shot at winning those states. There are reports that the Republican senate committee is pulling its resources out of Colorado and, with it, the undercard support for McCain in a GOP state trending Democratic.

Pennsylvania remains a question mark but even there, most polls show Obama with a comfortable lead. The current map is nothing but bad news for McCain. His campaign is playing defense almost exclusively. Worse for Republicans, it's on defense in states that would have been all-but wrapped up in most years, like North Carolina.

Things are looking bleak for McCain, whose path to 270 electoral votes is narrowing to a pinhole. This is why "Joe The Plumber" is important to McCain. His campaign needs something to boost them nationally, not just in specific states. In other election years, a targeted campaign on trade in Ohio or hot-button social issues in places like North Carolina, Virginia and Missouri might be enough to wedge some voters in individual states.

But this is no ordinary election and there's one single issue dominating the agenda everywhere – the economy. Personal credibility aside, Joe's questioning of Barack Obama helped but a new face on an age-old Republican argument on taxes. If the GOP retains an edge anywhere on economic issues, it's on taxes, hence the insistence of Obama that only a very few would pay more under his administration.

If McCain can start to narrow those national numbers, he'll begin shoring himself up in some of these key states he must win – and where the fight is now being waged. It may not help expand the field but it could relieve at least a bit of the pressure coming down on his Electoral Map at the moment. And with just 18 days left in the campaign, that's all he can ask for.

Around The Track

  • And estimated 56.5 million people watched the final presidential debate Wednesday night, according to Nielsen. That was fewer than the 63 million who tuned in for the second one but more than the 52 million who watched the first. The vice presidential debate was the most-watched of the fall, garnering nearly 70 million viewers.
  • The Washington Post this morning endorses Barack Obama: "The choice is made easy in part by Mr. McCain's disappointing campaign, above all his irresponsible selection of a running mate who is not ready to be president. It is made easy in larger part, though, because of our admiration for Mr. Obama and the impressive qualities he has shown during this long race."
  • Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel performed at a New York fundraiser for Obama last night where the candidate warned about over-confidence. "Don't underestimate the capacity of Democrats to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Don't underestimate our ability to screw it up. I want everybody running scared," he said.
  • "Joe The Plumber" feels the harsh spotlight of the national press corps.