One thing that has struck me recently is the volatility of the McCain campaign. I'm not referencing Obama's attempts to paint McCain as "erratic" so much as the actions of McCain's own campaign which have contributed toward that perception.
The timeline here is of great importance. After the primaries ended both campaigns largely coasted with a few spikes of interest here and there. Both were roughly even, with a slight popular vote advantage to Obama. One can easily recall the subtle nervousness of the Democrats, and the tempered jubilation of the Republicans. Everyone had thought that Obama would be coasting to an easy win, but McCain was clearly challenging that assumption, particularly when, following the conventions, he took the lead over Obama.
The conventions were the most important events in this election, moreso than Reverend Wright, the debates or even the economic crisis. They set the stage for everything that was to follow, from message to methodology for each campaign.
Obama played safe with his running mate choice and has effectively been following that pattern ever since. Even when his party was in a state of panic following McCain's rise in the polls he held steady. Even in recent weeks when his party has seen opportunities for him to land crucial knockout punches, he abstains rather than risk losing balance. This strategy is unflinching in its disregard for criticism, although it's terribly boring and almost disappointing.
McCain took a large risk with his running mate, and has been taking big risks ever since. These gambles have often failed to pay off, resulting in the necessity to step back and thus create mixed messages. The obvious cases being the suspension of his campaign and subsequent showing up at the debate anyway, the Ayers attacks followed by stepping back from that rhetoric, and his recent back and forth as to whether he was actually going to make a statement of economic policy or not. This presents evidence for Obama's case that McCain is "erratic".
What many fail to recognize is that we've been here before; it was only earlier this year that Hillary Clinton experienced a similar period in her campaign. When her message of experience lost traction she began seeking a new track to follow. Unfortunately, she went through numerous messages trying to find one that would stick. The constantly changing messages on her podium drew a stark contrast to the ironically unchanging slogans of Obama. Even when she "found her voice" there were aftershocks of the "erratic" behavior, such as the comments about the potential for assassination.
The most striking part of the parallel is in the advice given to Clinton and McCain. Much as the Republicans are now for McCain, the Democrats and advisers at the time gave Clinton vastly disparate advice on how to take down Obama. It's an environment designed to foster disaster. Disaster is what we've seen. A well oiled campaign does not release a statement, double back on it, and then double back again. McCain's campaign has done this not just several times, but many times. More than anything else this hurts his campaign in the eyes of the most important voters at this stage, the undecided independents.
Clinton eventually grounded herself and moved on to thoroughly challenge Obama, but when she found her footing she had a good two months or more left to fight. McCain is down to three weeks with which to find balance, plant his feet and turn the election around. His last opportunity may be tomorrow's debate, after which it may be all but settled. A solid message to stand upon is required for McCain to win this election; If he fails to find consistency at the debate, his chances at establishing it thereafter are slim to none.