McCain's Struggles: Four Ways He Went Wrong

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Jim Watson / AFP / Getty

Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain during a rally in Downingtown, Pa.

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McCain Drove into a House Republican Wall. At the height of the financial crisis, John McCain took a big, and many would say ill-advised, risk, announcing he was suspending his campaign and even threatening to skip the first debate to get "in the arena," as his hero Teddy Roosevelt put it. He returned to Washington and attempted to demonstrate a type of leadership on the financial crisis that would distinguish him from Obama's more hands-off approach. The effort to help craft a bipartisan bailout plan had muddled results, mainly because McCain's influence among House Republicans, the crucial voting bloc, was limited. Nonetheless, after an initial bailout plan was crafted, his campaign declared victory, saying McCain had helped give the House GOP a real bargaining position. This posture might have worked had the House Republicans not surprisingly sunk the bailout package in a vote that Monday, sending the stock market reeling and the nation further into a crisis of leadership. McCain's gamble had not just failed to produce results, it left him looking impulsive and erratic. Days later, to add insult to injury, McCain was forced to vote for a revamped bailout package chock-full of the special-interest earmarks he has long opposed and had vowed not to allow in any bailout package.

Sarah Palin Needed a Crash Course She Never Got. The selection of Palin as McCain's running mate was initially a coup. It shocked the nation, rocketed McCain in the polls, especially among white women, and solidified support among the GOP base. McCain rallies suddenly rivaled Obama's rallies in enthusiasm and size. But while media scrutiny of Palin's record started to damage her maverick credibility (can you say Bridge to Nowhere?), her bubble truly got deflated by Katie Couric. Palin's two weeks of interview broadcasts on CBS Evening News coincided with a collapse in her approval ratings and a loss of McCain's gains among white women. In the interviews, Palin showed a lack of understanding of a number of key federal issues, including the debate over the constitutional right to privacy that forms the basis of Roe v. Wade, McCain's policy on Pakistan and the record of Vice President Dick Cheney. After Couric was done, Saturday Night Live took over. One can only imagine how much better it might have been if the McCain campaign had given Palin some extra time to prepare for the questions she would surely face. But that would probably have required that she not be a last-minute choice, which she apparently was.

(Click here to see a gallery of campaign gaffes.)

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