McCain Insiders Fretting That Polls' Downward Trends Tough to Reverse

Republicans say the difficulty of a comeback raises the stakes for tonight's presidential debate.

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Dropping poll numbers, the increase in contested GOP states, and a lack of time to turn around the presidential election are leading to a deep concern among Republicans and inside John McCain's campaign that the Arizona senator won't be able to scratch back against Sen. Barack Obama by Election Day.

One insider compared the political situation to the end of the 1992 campaign when, despite close tracking polls, Bill Clinton knocked off former President Bush. "It's beginning to feel a lot like that," said one campaign veteran.

The worries about a comeback by the Republican have raised the importance of tonight's presidential debate. It's in a town hall format, a scene McCain has handled well in the past.

Republican officials said that McCain must use the debate to stop his drop in polls and begin a comeback. "It's 30 days, and that's enough time," said one hopeful official. "Just look at what's happened in the last two weeks with the financial bailout. Four weeks is a long time for something to happen," added the GOP official.

Unfortunately, added another McCain adviser, the crash of the stock market and the resulting overseas financial crisis will continue through the election, and that will remind voters daily that the economy—considered Obama's stronger suit—is issue No. 1.

"It's that 401(k)-watcher that worries us," said a Republican lobbyist and McCain ally.