With the final presidential debate scheduled for tomorrow evening, Senator John McCain finds himself facing an odd dichotomy. While he has a tactical advantage stemming from low expectations for his performance, they are driven by a growing number of highly negative perceptions. Among them: - The McCain campaign has no overarching strategy and flounders about, erratically shifting from one fruitless tactic to another. Since the halcyon days of the Republican Convention, the McCain campaign has touted the Senators personal story and commitment to the nation; his reputation as a maverick and reformer; the danger of Senator Obamas inexperience and admittedly thin resume; Obamas campaign contributions from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; attacking the Democratic nominees association with left wing radicals and domestic terrorists; throwing red meat to the partisan faithful; appealing to independent voters and the Moderate Middle; haphazardly releasing McCains incoherent and piecemeal economic proposals and have finally returned once again to his personal story and undying patriotism. Pick your favorite metaphor; Keystone cops or firemen throwing half-filled buckets of water at a raging inferno. Since the economic crisis came to dominate daily headlines on September 15th, the McCain campaign has been unable to develop a consistent and effective message. Nor have they been able to mount a credible counterattack to Senator Obamas massive ongoing and highly successful offensive. In the process they have unwittingly reinforced the impression promoted by the Obama camp that McCain is unstable and lacks discipline and focus. - The Conservative base is starting to become disillusioned with McCain as a rising chorus of Conservative commentators begins to openly criticize both the candidate and his campaign. Having been enraptured by the warm glow of their initial crush on Sarah Palin, Conservatives returning to their default views of McCain. As Eric Clapton demoaned, the thrill is gone. Ranging from ambivalence at best to apprehension and contempt in the worst cases, Conservatives have never fully accepted McCain as the Republican Partys standard bearer. His maverick reputation is built on a willingness to embrace bipartisanship compromise at the expense of partisan political purity. This is apostasy in the eyes of many Conservatives who are more comfortable criticizing and chastising the Arizonan Senator than supporting him. Linking his plummeting poll numbers directly with growing fears of a Republican debacle of biblical proportions on the Congressional front, Conservatives have already embarked on a narrative that casts McCain not as the Republican Partys champion, but rather as its destroyer; blinding leading it in the modern political equivalent of Picketts charge. - McCain is gaining a reputation for being a political tease; all talk and no show. Having suspended his campaign and threatened to postpone the first presidential debate to go to Washington to participate in negotiations on the financial sector rescue package, McCain failed to play any substantive role in the discussions beyond giving tacit approval to the reticence of House Republicans. This stood in stark contrast to his role as both the de facto leader of the Republican Party and his heavily promoted record for forging bipartisan agreements in the face of party line obstinance. Though assuring supporters he will aggressively take the fight to Obama, his debate performances have been reminiscent of Andy Rooneys more grumbling and bitter essays. Promising to run an honorable, issue-oriented campaign McCain has instead turned the race into a low-intensity political conflict. Ever the son of the Vietnam War, he has embarked on an extended campaign of steady rhetorical escalation that has garnered him no observable measure of progress even while he has paid for it in declining poll numbers and hemorrahging favorability ratings. In the end he has been neither an aggressive partisan champion nor an above-the-fray statesman as he attempted to portray himself to the two diametrically opposed camps. - Events have overtaken much of the rationale for McCains candidacy. Having based much of his campaign on his national security and foreign policy credentials, McCain has found that they serve him poorly in the face of daily headlines dominated by economic tumult and catastrophe. The immediate threat comes from Wall Street and the plant teetering precariously on the verge of closure across town, not from the dusty Mesopotamian heartland or the untamed regions of remote Central Asia. Taken in conjunction with McCains own previous admission that he really doesnt understand economics, his dogged insistence that he is best suited to lead the nation abroad when it is confronted by crises at home fails to inspire great confidence in his candidacy. - There is a growing perception of the inevitability of an Obama victory. 55 percent of respondents in a recent Rassmussen poll expect an Obama victory, while only 15 percent believe McCain will ultimately prevail. Throw in polling trends that show McCains support eroding in traditionally red states and Obama pulling away in key battleground states and it appears that there is little, if anything, he can do himself to stem a rising blue electoral tide that may quickly become a tsunami. As Obama continues to reassure the electorate with each passing debate and stories of his lead in the polls receive prominent coverage in the press, the magnetic attraction of self-fulfilling prophecies rises exponentially. As it multiplies and feeds on itself, the old adage that everyone loves a winner begins to pull voters down off the fence. Watching the growing celebrants, weaker willed partisans begin to drift towards the sirens call. Momentum builds and victories quickly become landslides. That being the case, it appears increasingly clear that absent an unprecedented implosion of the Obama campaign or the introduction of an unexpected external factor into the equation an international incident or a Marine walking out of the Pakistani frontier with Osama Bin Ladens head on a pike, for example the nation is prepared to usher the Illinois native from the hallowed halls of Congress into the storied seat of power at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Thus, Senator McCains dilemma is how does he take advantage of the low expectations for his performance tomorrow night in what may be one of the last opportunities to stop Senator Obamas seemingly irresistible march to the White House. Having struck out in the previous two debates, McCain is down to his last out. Failing to score a grand slam tomorrow night that sends it into extra innings, this may well be the deciding game in this years presidential electoral series. Batter up, faithful readers! Stay tuned for updates as events warrant and the mighty McCain advances to the bat.