The Note: Through the Woods

Which represents the biggest threat to Sen. John McCain?

His running mate . . .

His staff . . .

Elites . . .

Wallets . . .

The fact that Sen. Barack Obama will get MORE coverage while far from any battleground state . . .

An ad environment that's past the saturation point (or is that a good thing?) . . .

McCain won't have Obama money to put behind it -- but the message in his latest ad is as sharp as they come, and as sharp as he's likely to get (and hits while Obama is visiting grandma, no less).

We hear Sen. Joe Biden's words, and we see tanks, ships, marching terrorists, Chavez, Ahmadinejad -- then a cut to black: "It doesn't have to happen. Vote McCain." (It's 3 am, and we think we're meant to smell daisies.)

There's not far to go beyond this -- and plenty of questions about whether this is too late, if not too little, or too irrelevant (Dow futures down 550 points Friday morning).

We're about to find out if there's a way to still frighten voters about Obama (and between taxes, experiences, and national security -- McCain hopes there are many ways). If nothing else, the new tack scratches an itch in the party base -- but McCain needs it to do more than that at this stage.

Friday brings a new message from Gov. Sarah Palin, too -- her first policy speech of the campaign (!), calling for greater support for special-needs children (and attacking Obama on taxes). (A better story to tell than her "Troopergate" deposition Friday.)

Plus -- pushback on the clothing story: "That is not who we are. . . . That whole thing is just, bad!" Palin tells the Chicago Tribune's Jill Zuckman. "Oh, if people only knew how frugal we are."

Zuckman: " 'It's kind of painful to be criticized for something when all the facts are not out there and are not reported,' said Palin, saying the clothes are not worth $150,000 and were bought for the Republican National Convention. Still, she has been wearing pricey clothes at campaign events this fall. She said they will be given back, auctioned off or sent to charity. Most of them, she said, haven't even left the belly of her campaign plane."

On double standards: "I think Hillary Clinton was held to a different standard in her primary race," Palin said. "I'm not going to complain about it, I'm not going to whine about it, I'm going to plow through that, because we are embarking on something greater than that, than allowing that double standard to adversely affect us."

On her speech Friday: "Palin called the disabilities issues 'a joyful challenge,' " Zuckman writes. "Todd Palin showed off photos of people with Down syndrome who have come to campaign events, and the candidate said one advocacy group sent her a bumper sticker that said 'My kid has more chromosomes than your kid.' 'These children are not a problem, they are a priority,' Palin said."

How it all fits together: "Looking for fresh ways to press the tax issue, John McCain plans to roll out a new attack against Barack Obama on Friday, claiming the Democrat's plan would increase the burden on families with special needs children," The Wall Street Journal's Amy Chozick and Nick Timiraos reports.

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