The Note: Desperate Times . . .

And from a new Obama ad: "Three quarters of a million jobs lost this year. Our financial system in turmoil. And John McCain? Erratic [!] in a crisis. Out of touch on the economy. No wonder his campaign wants to change the subject."

Who can best afford a late food fight? "The onus is on Republican John McCain to turn the race around under exceptionally challenging circumstances -- and his options are limited," the AP's Liz Sidoti writes. "McCain's advisers say the Arizona senator will ramp up his attacks in the coming days with a tougher, more focused message describing 'who Obama is,' including questioning his character, 'liberal' record and 'too risky' proposals in advertising and appearances."

"Some Republicans close to McCain's campaign fret in private that Obama may be pulling away for good; others aren't so pessimistic," Sidoti continues. "But there's unanimity in this: McCain has dwindling chances to regain momentum, and the upcoming debates are critical."

"The terrain of the election has shifted mightily to economic fear and Obama is moving his campaign to exploit that. Meanwhile the McCain campaign retains its lamentable focus on press tactics at the expense of a real strategy," GOP strategist Mike Murphy writes in his Time blog. "McCain is losing. To regain a chance to win, McCain must run as who he truly is; pragmatic, tough, bi-partisan and ready to break some special interest china to get the right things done in Washington. Fix the message, and you will fix the states."

We know who's started this one, because they told us what they were doing: "Sen. John McCain and his Republican allies are readying a newly aggressive assault on Sen. Barack Obama's character, believing that to win in November they must shift the conversation back to questions about the Democrat's judgment, honesty and personal associations," Michael D. Shear reported in Saturday's Washington Post.

And yet: "The Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. appears to be off limits after McCain condemned the North Carolina Republican Party in April for an ad that linked Obama to his former pastor," Shear adds.

"The dust-up comes as Obama's poll numbers have risen in recent weeks, even in some traditionally Republican states, as Wall Street's woes dominate the news," Maeve Reston and Seema Mehta write in the Los Angeles Times.

"The new GOP tack comes as the economic crisis increasingly dominates the campaign and new polls show Obama growing stronger in key battleground states," USA Today's Jill Lawrence writes. "A Columbus Dispatch poll put the race at Obama 49%, McCain 42% in Ohio, while a Minneapolis Star Tribune poll gave Obama an 18-point lead in Minnesota. A Denver Post poll of Colorado showed the race deadlocked 44%-44%."

Obama "has sought to pre-empt what he referred to as 'Swift boat'-style attacks on his character, like Ms. Palin's in Colorado and California over the weekend. He also referred to Mr. McCain as 'erratic' in an advertisement released Sunday," Steven Lee Myers writes in The New York Times.

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