World and Nation

Lagging, McCain Can Still See Several Victory Scenarios

Sen. John McCain woke Thursday morning to what has become a fairly common greeting in these tough last weeks of his campaign. A raft of polls showing him well behind. Early post-mortems on his candidacy. Even Republicans speaking of him in the past tense.

But is it really over?

As McCain enters into this closing stretch, his aides — as well as some outside Republicans and even a few Democrats — argue that he still has a viable path to victory. “The McCain campaign is roughly in the position where Vice President Gore was running against President Bush one week before the election of 2000,” said Steve Schmidt, McCain’s chief strategist. “We have ground to make up, but we believe we can make it up.”

Even the most hearty of the McCain supporters acknowledge that it won’t be easy, and there are a considerable number of Republicans who say, off the record, that the 2008 cake is baked.

At this point in the campaign, McCain’s hopes of victory may rest on events over which he simply does not have control. Still, there does seem to be enough question marks hovering over this race that it’s not quite time for McCain to ride his bus back to Arizona.

“It’s an uphill battle,” said Karl Rove, who was the chief strategist for going back to Bush’s first run for Texas governor in 1994. “But I remember seven days out from the Texas gubernatorial race, and everybody was like, ‘It’s all over, we’re cooked!’ And we won by seven points.”

Here are what McCain’s advisers are watching hopefully (and Obama’s are watching warily) as the contest enters its final days.

McCain’s advisers said that the key to victory is reeling back those Republican states where Obama has them on the run: Florida, where McCain spent Thursday; Ohio; Indiana; Missouri; North Carolina; Virginia; and Missouri. If he can hang on to all those states as well as others that are reliably red, he would put into his column 260 of the 270 electoral votes necessary to win.