The Note: The Plumback

Let's hope Joe the Plumber doesn't charge by the minute -- the 15th can be the roughest.

Maybe John McCain's last great comeback isn't possible. Maybe it's only possible on the back of a plumber from Ohio (albeit one who could have used some vetting).

Maybe it's only possible with a plumber plus an ACORN plus an apology plus an "SNL" appearance plus a whole bunch of nasty things still to be said about Barack Obama.

But as the race moves to a (bluer) map, the fact is that a McCain comeback is still possible, all the signs to the contrary notwithstanding. Outgunned on the air and the ground, in difficult (shrinking) terrain, there may yet be room for one final storyline that casts McCain like he remembers so fondly.

If he wins, he'll be eking it out: "Top aides to Senator John McCain said Thursday that they were searching for a 'narrow-victory scenario' and would focus in the final weeks on a dwindling number of states, using mailings, telephone calls and television advertisements to try to tear away support from Senator Barack Obama," Adam Nagourney and Jim Rutenberg write in The New York Times.

"Mr. Obama's advisers said they would use the remaining 19 days of the campaign to focus mainly on capturing states that President Bush won in 2004; he is going to Missouri, North Carolina and Virginia, over the next three days and spending two days in Florida next week," they write. "In a sign of the differing fortunes of the candidates, advisers to Mr. Obama said he was escalating his effort in West Virginia, which Mr. Bush won by 13 points in 2004, with a surge in advertising spending and a campaign swing there in the coming days by Mr. Obama or his running mate, Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr."

Karl Rove charts the strategy: "Mr. McCain is shaping a story line that draws on well-founded concerns about Mr. Obama's lack of record or experience," Rove writes in his Wall Street Journal column. "Mr. McCain is also bowing to reality and devoting most of his time to the economy. His narrative is he's the conservative reformer who'll lead and work hard to get things done, while Mr. Obama is the tax-and-spend liberal who's unprepared to lead and unwilling to act."

The itinerary: "[McCain's] campaign understands the dire circumstances it faces and is narrowing his travels almost exclusively to Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio, Missouri, Colorado and Nevada. If he carries those states, while losing only Iowa and New Mexico from the GOP's 2004 total, Mr. McCain will carry 274 Electoral College votes and the White House. It's threading the needle, but it's come to that."

Defense is what's left of his offense: "The latest polls show Obama ahead in Virginia and Florida. McCain and Obama are effectively tied in Missouri and North Carolina," ABC's Ron Claiborne reports. "This has forced McCain to play defense in these states with less than three weeks to go instead of being in blue states that his campaign has targeted, such as New Hampshire, Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota."

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