Something is a little bit funny when Matt Drudge is treating 1-2 point gains for McCain in the Rasmussen and Zogby tracking polls as “BREAKING” news. Naturally, Drudge ignores other results like the just-released ABC/WaPo poll that show Obama continuing to gain ground.
Drudge has a nose for news, and he knows that a one-point gain in a tracking poll is not news — unless someone desperately wants it to be.
So here’s what I think is going on.
The McCain campaign is planning on a major “reboot” of its campaign in some point in advance of Wednesday night’s debate. This will take on something of the form that Bill Kristol advocates in his must-read Monday AM piece in the Times, including some combination of (i) pledging to run a positive campaign; (ii) firing/demoting Steve Schmidt and or/Rick Davis; (iii) apologizing for his campaign’s tone. In fact, Kristol’s column may be something of a trial balloon for this strategy.
What the McCain campaign really, really doesn’t want is for this move to be portrayed as desperate stunt. McCain has already developed a reputation for being a bit erratic under pressure — the ABC/Post poll now shows that a 48-45 plurality of voters trust Obama to handle an “unexpected major crisis” — and Bill Burton and Robert Gibbs must be foaming at the mouth waiting to spin something like this.
The only way for McCain to do that is for him to convince the media that he already had the momentum. The campaign will probably try and claim the moral highground, perhaps contrasting McCain’s repudiation of the woman who called Obama an “Arab” on Friday against John Lewis’s comments from Saturday. They will suggest that McCain found his voice, and made the “maverick” move of telling off the Beltway Republicans who were urging him to go for blood. They will suggest that the reboot is a continuation of this strategy, and that — as the Zogby poll so obviously attests to! — voters were already responding favorably to McCain’s new tone.
It won’t be an easy spin war for them to win. But they’d seem to have little left to lose, and if the media is reminded of the “old” McCain, they may tend to give his narrative the benefit of the doubt.