Joel Mowbray reports: McCain in Manhattan

Our occasional correspondent Joel Mowbray ([email protected]) has filed this report:

To get a sense of just how bad things are for John McCain, consider this: Shortly after he and Sarah Palin arrived at New York City’s Grand Hyatt Hotel last night for a major fundraiser, only nine left-wing protesters were assembled in front of the entrance on 42nd St. This in one of the most liberal cities in America. They seemed to be there out of a sense of obligation as opposed to the seething rage that has marked the hard left in recent years.

With McCain plunging in the polls, it’s not hard to see why the protesters seemed so tranquil.

When Palin jolted the McCain campaign and Obama was trailing, the left became enraged. Palin became a pariah overnight, and McCain’s judgment was supposedly shoddy. Hysteria was the order of the day.

Not anymore.

Inside, McCain gave a solid stump speech, but his words didn’t signal a new direction in the campaign’s last chapter. As one might expect, his talk was a tad anticlimactic following his running mate. Palin worked the crowd into a lather and camera phones everywhere were called into duty. People were taking photos of McCain, too, but not with the same enthusiasm. The reason, though, could be surface-deep: Palin photographs extremely well, and the camera simply does not love her boss as much. One person standing 20 feet from the podium showed me a dozen pictures he snapped, and McCain was smiling in just one.

The final debate is playing out tonight in Long Island, and anyone looking for clues might be interested in what McCain didn’t say last night. During a pause in his speech, some in the audience shouted out, “Take the gloves off.” Ignoring the opportunity to rouse the crowd with a quip or a feisty one-liner, McCain instead continued his prepared remarks.

While the event itself was a definite success — one unofficial count being discussed was $9 million raised — money alone can’t save McCain now. Going on the attack the past week or two doesn’t appear to have dented Obama, and the tactic could have even have backfired.

Not in doubt is that McCain needs the momentum to change — and tonight might present his last, best hope. What exactly he needs to do is less clear. But in reading the tea leaves afterward, a reliable gauge might be how much McCain riles the left. If they remain as calm as the protesters were last night, Obama might soon have a real presidential seal to call his own.

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