The Note: Desperate Times . . .

Four weeks out, what does it say that . . . Team McCain is hoping that Bill Ayers has one last bomb in him -- just enough to blow up the presidential race?

. . . That it's the McCain campaign that has to telegraph its intentions to keep the base from sitting the rest of this one out?

. . . That Karl Rove has gone from nudging along McCain strategy to sounding the GOP alarm bells?

. . . That Palin Power needs to be employed to save a single electoral vote in Nebraska (and that she wants both Michigan and Jeremiah Wright in play -- her campaign's moves notwithstanding)?

. . . That GOP jitters are spreading across the (diminished) map?

. . . That Sen. John McCain is turning a page only to find an old story he doesn't like to hear told?

So we reach the nasty stage -- with Ayres and Rezko (but not Wright -- unless Gov. Sarah Palin gets her way) back among us.

But context is everything, and might these attacks have been more effective a few weeks ago -- back when convention wisdom wasn't congealing, back when the map wasn't crumbling, back when the GOP aides wasn't fretting/sniping/panicking, back when this race still looked wide open?

It's not (just) the fundamentals of the economy, it's the fundamentals of the campaign: McCain is looking to rock a race that has already been through as big a storm of perceptions as we're likely to see.

He's relying on old connections and shady associations to raise doubts about Sen. Barack Obama -- when it might be too late to make it all stick.

"Take it to a well capitalized bank: Bill Ayers isn't going to save John McCain. The race is over," Howard Wolfson declares on his New Republic blog. "This is a big election about big issues. McCain's smallball will not work. This race will not be decided by lipsticked pigs. And John McCain can not escape that reality."

Like the crisis that's brought us to this, the fundamentals are beyond the candidates' control: "John McCain needs a game-changer to win the U.S. presidential election. He's not going to provide it himself, and Barack Obama won't give it to him," Bloomberg's Al Hunt writes in his column. "The Arizona Republican's best chance for a turnaround is a national security crisis over the next four weeks that somehow persuades swing voters that his experience and credentials are essential."

Palin got to test-drive the new message: "Republican vice presidential nominee Gov. Sarah Palin unleashed a new attack on Sen. Barack Obama, accusing him of 'palling around with terrorists' for his association with former 1960s radical William Ayers," per ABC's Imtiyaz Delawala.

"This is not a man who sees America as you and I see America," Palin said in Carson, Calif.

"Last night in Omaha, Sarah Palin not only questioned Obama's patriotism," reports ABC's David Wright, on "Good Morning America" Monday, "she accused him of consorting with terrorists."

Says GOP strategist Ron Bonjean: "It's clear we're at a tipping point. We're at a decisive moment where Sen. McCain needs to act and act fast."

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