The Note: Desperate Times . . .

Is Ayers the last bullet left? "For six months, they have largely held off. Until now," ABC's Ron Claiborne reports. "It appears the McCain campaign is finally preparing to launch a forceful assault on Obama's character by portraying him as having a cozy relationship with a man it calls an 'unrepentant terrorist,' even though there is scant evidence that the two men were much more than acquaintances who happened to serve together on two not-for-profit boards several years ago."

Ask "The Bullet" himself (who, we learn here, pushed Palin for veep): "A month from election day, [Steve] Schmidt faces his most difficult professional challenge," Dan Morain and Bob Drogin write in a Los Angeles Times profile. "McCain has dropped in polls as Washington struggled to find a solution to a reeling Wall Street. Polls show voters trust Obama more than McCain to fix the economy."

When it comes to the map, only one side is on offense: "Mr. Obama has what both sides describe as serious efforts under way in at least nine states that voted for President Bush in 2004, including some that neither side thought would be on the table this close to Election Day," Adam Nagourney and Jeff Zeleny write in the Sunday New York Times. "By contrast, Mr. McCain is vigorously competing in just four states where Democrats won in 2004: Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, followed by Wisconsin and Minnesota. His decision last week to pull out of Michigan reflected in part the challenge that the declining economy has created for Republicans, given that they have held the White House for the last eight years."

"In the days before and after Tuesday's presidential debate, Barack Obama will spend all of his time in states where Democratic presidential candidates rarely go, especially this close to an election," John McCormick writes in the Chicago Tribune. "This weekend and through the middle of this week, Obama is focusing on Virginia, North Carolina and Indiana. It has been nearly a month, for example, since he even visited the battleground of battlegrounds, Ohio."

"Our path to victory is clear," Mike DuHaime tells The Washington Post's Dan Balz and Anne Kornblut. (So why can't anyone else see it?)

"Over the course of two weeks, as the financial crisis and faltering economy have taken center stage, the electoral map has shifted sharply away from McCain and towards Barack Obama," Michael Scherer writes in Time. Quoting Karl Rove: "If the election were held today, Obama would win every state John Kerry won in 2004, while adding New Mexico, Iowa and Colorado to his coalition."

Advice from Rove: "People have persistent doubts about whether Obama is qualified," Rove writes in his Newsweek column. "McCain-Palin must deepen those doubts by pounding away on questions about Obama's character, judgment and values. Drawing on Obama's own record and statements, they need to paint him as a big spender, class warrior and cultural elitist; they need to say he's never worked across party lines or gotten his hands dirty solving big issues. But the duo must also give voters reasons to support them."

Hopeful, still: "Sarah Palin's debate performance, and the passage of the economic-rescue plan, may bookend a bad couple of weeks for McCain. He has a month to turn things around. It's doable; but it won't be easy," Rove continues.

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