One week out, we know that one of the following equations will produce a number greater than 270 (and only one could possibly approach 370):
Experience + Liberals + (Bradley x 2) + (Surprise x 3) + Joe the Plumber + Pennsylvania + Schmidt - Axelrod - Bush +/- Palin +/- Bill Clinton
We know every smart mathematician ends up with the same result these days. But we also know every smart conversation ends with the same two words . . . and yet.
And yet . . . it's just distinctly possible that this election that's been all about little things may wind up being about the big things (probably not including seven-year-old radio interviews). Things like national security and public corruption and the direction of the nation and, above all, the economy.
It's a formula that even Sen. John McCain appears comfortable with now: Joe the Plumber himself (finally) hits the trail for him Tuesday, ABC's Bret Hovell reports, and it's all about the economy for him, too.
McCain's latest ad is economic in message, alternating pictures of the candidates (and it's not hard to figure out which words belong with which man -- and which man looks better in the chosen photographs): "For higher taxes . . . For workin' Joes . . . Spread your income . . . Keep what's yours . . . A trillion in new spending . . . Freeze spending, eliminate waste . . . Pain for small business . . . Economic growth . . . Risky . . . Proven."
But who's really happier with this turn? "Both candidates are focusing their rhetoric increasingly on economic issues -- a main area of concern for voters in the continuing global financial crisis," Christopher Cooper and Elizabeth Holmes write in The Wall Street Journal.
Said former Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, R-Md.: "In the cloud of this economic turmoil a lot of things often times get lost in translation. . . . It is important for campaigns to step back and reassess and remind."
One basic problem with a debate like this, this late: "Senator Barack Obama, making what aides called the 'closing argument' of his campaign, declared on Monday that it was time to 'get beyond the old ideological debates.' And then Mr. Obama and his opponent, Senator John McCain, spent much of the day engaged in just such a debate," Peter Baker and Michael Cooper write in The New York Times.
Contrast the closing styles: Obama is going broad, with soaring speeches before big crowds -- and McCain is making it all about the attack: liberal vs. conservative, safe vs. risky, the plumber vs. the redistributor.
Even if McCain was totally comfortable with the turn to the economy (no sure bet when Obama has effectively claimed the tax issue as his own -- all while expanding a map that continues to shrink for his opponent), distractions emerge anew.
The GOP brand takes another beating -- delivered from the District of Columbia, but with impact a place you can't see from any rooftop deck in the nation's capital.
Make that plus-one (most likely) in the Democratic push for 60, in ruby red Alaska -- and make that minus-one for a McCain-Palin campaign that's anxious to tell its own stories for a change.