John McCain repeatedly implores backers to “stand up and fight” these days, showing gritty determination even as many indicators point to a Barack Obama victory and Republicans engage in fingerpointing typical of losing campaigns.
“Nothing is inevitable. We never give up. We never quit,” McCain declares.
A week before Election Day, the Republican is an enthusiastic underdog with what advisers say is a deep personal belief that he still has a chance to stage an upset next week. He has come back from the brink politically and personally before, and they say, he's resolved to do so again despite steep challenges.
In the homestretch, he tells people to ignore the pundits who project an Obama triumph and the polls that favor the Democrat. He scorns Obama's confident air in the waning days as a premature "victory lap." He says the country deserves “someone who will fight 'til the end.” And, he says a GOP victory is within reach.
Some GOP pessimists have suggested he follow the example of Bob Dole, who, once he fell well behind Democrat Bill Clinton in 1996, shifted his campaign from states with the tightest presidential races to those where his appearance could most help Republican candidates for lesser offices. But McCain has steadfastly focused on the closest battleground states.
Even so, the very real possibility of a loss — and life after the campaign — has crept into McCain's latest pitch. “I have fought for you most of my life, and in places where defeat meant more than returning to the Senate," McCain says. Then, he adds: “I've never been the kind to back down when the stakes are high.”
Public surveys show Obama leads nationally and McCain faces a difficult path to the 270 electoral votes needed. He's struggling to hold onto traditionally Republican states. In a troublesome sign, the Republican National Committee was forced to shore up support with TV ads in the often reliably GOP state of Montana and boosted its presence in West Virginia, which President Bush won.
Pennsylvania, which offers 21 electoral votes and hasn't backed a Republican presidential nominee since 1988, is the only traditionally Democratic state McCain now is going after in earnest. Some GOP aides say it alone may hold the key to a McCain victory. Democrats are doubtful.