Back in the 1984 presidential election, when it became obvious Ronald Reagan was going to thrash Walter Mondale, the Democrat was told to spend the last days of his campaign acting as he'd like his grandchildren to remember him. It's not clear yet whether John McCain's being given the same advice, but as the polls continue to show him several points behind Barack Obama, he's certainly dropped the most negative parts of his pitch to the American people. We haven't heard much about Bill Ayers lately.
On NBC's Meet the Press yesterday, 41 years to the day after he was shot down in Vietnam, Senator McCain said all the right things but still sounded pretty resigned to defeat. At the end of his interview with Tom Brokaw, he almost seemed to be saying goodbye to the big-time political stage, as he thanked the veteran anchorman for his years of broadcasting service. He really doesn't sound like a man who truly believes he can still win.
But for all that, politics can be surprising, and there are no doubt at least a couple of surprises left in the final week of the campaign. Senator Obama isn't totally out of sight, and if the gap between the men closes a bit in the coming days, there's bound to be at least one opinion poll giving Mr McCain the lead. That wouldn't necessarily make an overall McCain victory particularly likely, but it would strike a bit of fear into the Obama campaign - a fear that might, just might, lead to a costly mistake from their man.
Then there are the qualities of John McCain himself. During his long political career he's often come back from difficult positions to win. That, if nothing else, is probably what's kept his campaign team going over the last few weeks. It's not completely wishful thinking; his personal popularity and past success in a state such as New Hampshire could see him confound the polls and win there. However, that would only count for a measly four electoral college votes.
In the final days of this campaign, expect McCain to close the gap a bit, and expect the results on election night to be closer than the polls suggest - just don't expect him to win. But at least if he keeps his campaign positive between now and next Tuesday, he'll be able to leave the political stage with dignity, and with a career his grandkids will no doubt be proud to remember.