HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. -- It turns out the vaunted new McCain message machine can't produce the candidate himself a message on the big issue of the moment. And, it turns out, even really nice lipstick smears.
This hasn't been a case of Sen. Barack Obama finding his voice as much as it's been Sen. John McCain losing his. (As for Gov. Sarah Palin -- you don't need to see her e-mails to know that after a while, even a hip new song gets old.)
At this snapshot in the race, there is no other issue -- not pigs, not sexism, not the surge, not anything, really, that bodes particularly well for Team McCain.
It's 48-43 in the latest New York Times/CBS poll -- the Palin bounce bouncing right back to where we were pre-conventions.
Ditto Quinnipiac, which gives Obama a 14-point lead among women and a 49 – 45 lead nationwide.
"Despite an intense effort to distance himself from the way his party has done business in Washington, Senator John McCain is seen by voters as far less likely to bring change to Washington than Senator Barack Obama," Robin Toner and Adam Nagourney reports in the Times write-up. "The latest poll indicates 'the Palin effect' was, at least so far, a limited burst of interest. . . . The Times/CBS News poll suggested that Ms. Palin's selection has, to date, helped Mr. McCain only among Republican base voters; there was no evidence of significantly increased support for him among women in general."
"Economic 9/11," former Clinton chief of staff Leon Panetta tells USA Today (and which party would more happily embrace this analogy?).
The current President is doing his best Silent Cal and today in Washington they are battening down the hatches. President Bush canceled a trip to Alabama and Treasury officials put off testimony before the Senate Banking Committee for the second time this week.
"Once again, New York is the focus of the nation, and the amount of mass media concentrated there guarantees that this economic crisis will remain where it belongs -- at the center of attention," David Broder writes in his column. "For all the excitement Palin has generated, the national mood is still a major barrier for McCain and the Republicans."
There's palpable concern about the economy -- Wall Street's woes reaching already demoralized places like West Virginia, where ABC's "50 States in 50 Days" tour is in town for "Good Morning America" Thursday, and far, far beyond.
"The nation, divided sharply this decade by politics, is now united in worry," Jim Tankersley and Christi Parsons write in the Chicago Tribune, kicking off a new series, "United States of Anxiety."
And it's a worry manifested in realities on Main Streets like the Strip. Here's how J. Patrick Coolican described Obama's speech yesterday: "Sen. Barack Obama appeared at Cashman Field on Wednesday, but a more appropriate spot might have been four miles down the road on the lonely grounds of Echelon. That partially finished multibillion-dollar Strip resort, paralyzed because the money is gone, has become a symbol of Wall Street's far-reaching impact on Las Vegas."
Coolilcan described Obama's zinger of the day: "Obama spoke from a stage built over home plate and pantomimed some baseball swings before opening up on McCain, with relish. He mocked McCain for saying he'd take on the "old boys' network" in Washington: "The old boys' network? In the McCain campaign, that's called a staff meeting."