Can McCain perform the miracle he needs?

It's time for the final debate -- and the GOP candidate's future is on the line.

By Alex Koppelman
Published October 16, 2008 12:40AM (EDT)

Sad news, folks -- after only 46 debates involving the major presidential candidates, tonight marks the final debate of this election cycle. (Don't get too depressed, though; the first debate this time around was in April 2007, so if the pattern holds, you'll only have to wait two and a half years before the next thrilling installment.)

This isn't just the last debate -- it's also the last opportunity John McCain will have to perform in front of a national television audience of this size before Election Day. Given the dire situation in which he currently finds himself, McCain could use a big victory tonight. It'd also be good if he could find a way to really shake voters' confidence in Barack Obama.

But if the previous two debates in which these two have faced each other are any indication, McCain's not likely to succeed on either of those two points. Polls have consistently shown that voters believe the Democratic ticket has won the three general election debates. And he can try bringing up former Weather Underground member Bill Ayers, as he has said he will -- but since some voters are saying they believe Obama is a terrorist and yet still they plan to vote for him, well, it doesn't seem like mentioning Ayers will do him much good.

One other factor in Obama's favor tonight: This debate will focus on domestic policy. In this climate, that means a focus on the economy, which is perhaps the single biggest factor that has contributed to Obama's recent surge in the polls and McCain's precarious situation.

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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2008 Elections Barack Obama John Mccain R-ariz.