Was McCain Doomed to Lose?

"McCain needed to run a campaign that emphasized the importance of national security, in leading the war on terror," Rothenberg said. "Instead, the last month of the election was all about the economy."

But for all of the obstacles facing McCain including Obama's overwhelming financial advantage and the public's deep desire for change, there is a camp that refuses to hold McCain blameless for his defeat.

"I never subscribe to the political science theory that elections are predetermined," Shrum said. "McCain had a real chance."

Analysts in this camp fault McCain for seeming to switch themes and messages almost daily, running an ad one day that Obama supported the teaching of sex education to kindergartners and then attacking him the next day for having an association with 1960s radical William Ayers.

Obama, on the other hand, hammered the same message day after day, charging that a McCain presidency would represent a third Bush term.

Shrum said "a smarter campaign also would have separated McCain earlier from Bush" and "invited or tolerated a fight with the Republican far right, who don't like him anyway."

This could have been accomplished by naming a more moderate Republican or even Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut as his running mate, reinforcing McCain's maverick credentials..

"John McCain had one of the best brands in American politics. He threw it away in this campaign," Shrum said. "They kept trying to satisfy the Republican base. The truth is, where else did those voters have to go?"

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PHOTO: Jodie Foster and Alexandra Hedison attend the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts Inaugural Gala presented by Salvatore Ferragamo at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, Oct. 17, 2013, in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Stefanie Keenan/Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts/Getty Images for Wallis Annenber