The Note: The Clash

"Some of McCain's fellow Republicans say the aggressive tack may not offset the damage to his candidacy from the sinking economy," USA Today's David Jackson writes. Republican pollster Steve Lombardo: "The economic situation has virtually ended John McCain's presidential aspirations, and no amount of tactical maneuvering in the final 29 days is likely to change that equation."

Does this make a harmony? "Republican nominee McCain needs to change the words and the music. Democrat Obama would just as soon sing in the same key from now until Election Day," Chuck Raasch writes in the Nashville Tennessean.

Inspired yet? "As Barack Obama and John McCain arrive here for their second presidential debate Tuesday evening, they bring with them baggage from the 1960s and 1980s at a point in the campaign where nastiness has reached a new high," John McCormick and Jill Zuckman report in the Chicago Tribune. "Tuesday night's town hall setting, however, may not be conducive to the hard-hitting volleys dished out by their spokesmen and surrogates multiple times a day."

A new Obama TV ad out Tuesday spells out d-e-s-p-e-r-a-t-e: "But with no plan to lift our economy up, John McCain wants to tear Barack Obama down," the ad says. "Why? McCain's own campaign admits that if the election is about the economy, he's going to lose. But as Americans lose their jobs, homes and savings, it's time for a president who'll change the economy. Not change the subject."

McCain's latest ad goes back to the L-word: "How hypocritical. Obama's Social Security attack was called 'a falsehood.' His health care attack . . . 'misleading.' Obama's stem cell attack . . . 'not true.' Barack Obama. He promised better. He lied."

What McCain can't afford: "His handlers have announced, in effect, that he will run the rest of the race as Mr. Nasty, trying to claw his way back by ripping at Obama," Democratic consultant Bob Shrum writes in his The Week column. "In what could be the filthiest final weeks of a modern Presidential contest, McCain will not be content with repeating the falsehood that Obama is a 'liberal' who will raise 'your taxes.' No, the final tact from a purely tactical campaign will be personal and ugly."

How far will he go? Surely not as far as his audiences are going: "The reality is that a member of McCain's audience went there today. You can hear it clearly on this video clip taken from MSNBC-- after McCain asks 'Who is the real Barack Obama?' the first, loudest voice can be heard answering 'Terrorist!' " per The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder.

If you look carefully, the race might be all about, well, race: "By far the most likely thing that could derail Obama's victory is a racial backlash that is not visible in today's polls but is waiting to surge on Election Day -- coaxed to the surface (to the extent coaxing is needed) with the help of coded appeals from McCain and his conservative allies," John F. Harris and Jim VandeHei write for Politico, in a special report on race in the campaign. "By this logic, if Obama does not head into Nov. 4 with a lead of at least several points in the polls, there is a good chance he'll be swamped by prejudice that will flourish in the privacy of the voting booth."

How did we get here? Why not ask the ultimate battleground state for guidance:

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