John McCain's campaign - even according to his supporters - is running into trouble. Most polls have him trailing Barack Obama by significant margins. Here the Guardian asks top US commentators whether the race is now over or whether he can pull off a remarkable comeback.
Frank Luntz Republican pollster and consultant
"He hasn't lost it, but it is slipping away. He will need a brilliant debate performance next week or it will be too late. McCain has realised that he needs to fight. He has just forgotten who he is fighting for. It's not a fight against Obama. He should be fighting for the hard-working taxpayer and it doesn't come across that way. He is demonstrating the difference in his policy but he should be demonstrating why he is better for hard-working, middle-class taxpayers ... The way the media works, the way the economy is coming apart, the only chance for McCain is when everybody is watching." David Johnson Republican strategist Worked on Bob Dole's campaign in 1996
"If the election were held today, yeah, he's toast. John McCain isn't able to make a dent. People have tuned him out. That's also beginning to seep down to your rank-and-file Republicans, and panic is beginning to set in. He needs to change his message. John McCain needs to get in front of a camera and say: 'I'm not as polished and not as charismatic as my opponent, but we're facing an economic crisis. We need leadership and this is my plan.' Like Churchill ... he needs to make America understand that he's going to roll up his sleeves and he's not going to stop until he's got victory."
Elaine Kamarck White House aide to Bill Clinton and Democratic superdelegate Kennedy School of Government
"We know historically that when people are concerned about their pocket books they turn to the Democratic party. It doesn't look like this economic crisis is going to go away. John McCain is fighting an uphill battle, historically. He made a very good start last night, which nobody paid attention to, which is this proposal on foreclosures.
He's got two or three weeks to somehow overcome the prejudice among the voters that the Republicans are somehow responsible for this and that they're not the ones to handle this. It's a tall order, because this is not something that comes naturally to him ... He's got two options: he can try to change the conversation, which is extremely difficult given the severity of the financial crisis, or he can try to compete on the economic front."
Stephen Hess Brookings Institution Worked for presidents from Eisenhower to Carter
"If McCain were to win this election I think it would truly be the biggest upset in American political history, and I say that not as a partisan but as a political historian ... It's as if Herbert Hoover would have won in 1932. I don't think you can have an economic situation this bad, and not expect to throw out the in party ... By now much of it is set in concrete as far as the fundamentals." Matt Bennett Co-founder of Third Way, a Democratic thinktank
"I would say that he's in intensive care but not quite in hospice at the moment. He's definitely not finished, we're just too far out, and this race has lurched too quickly from one side to the other. But there's no question that he better turn it around fast. I don't know that there's anything he can do that's within his control. The reason he's not finished is not because he could pull something out of his hat, but because there could be [external] events that could save his campaign. He's just not a skilled enough campaigner and he's in such a tight spot that there's no magic bullet he could fire. He needs to hope for something else to save him."
David Yepsen Political columnist, The Des Moines Register
"No, he is not finished. It is still doable for McCain, and there is just under a month to the election ... But he has got to talk about specific solutions on the economy. There are also two wild cards in this race. One is race: how many people can't vote for Obama because of his race. We know it's out there, but people don't like to talk about it and it's difficult to measure.
The other wild card is voters under 25, the millennials. There are huge registration numbers out there. The challenge will be to produce those young people. It's one thing to sign them up. It's another to turn them out."
James Antle Associate editor of the American Spectator
"John McCain almost did the impossible: for a period after the Republican convention it looked like he might extend his party's grip on the White House for another four years. Independent voters liked him, conservatives loved Sarah Palin. The Democrats seemed utterly unprepared for this strange turn of events. And then came the financial meltdown. McCain - to paraphrase Sam Cooke - don't know much about the economy. Democrats are made to campaign in times like these.
The only remaining advantage for McCain is that he has kept the race just close enough to benefit from any last-minute blunder by Barack Obama. McCain has been an extraordinarily lucky candidate. But his luck looks like it has run out."
David Gergen Former White House adviser to Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton "The issue of race is still rearing its head in this campaign and we don't know how that it is going to play out. This has been such a volatile campaign and the issue of race has been so unresolved that I don't think you can say with any confidence Obama is going to win.
The Obama people are not acting as if they are confident ... If I were John McCain I would go into a meeting with the best economic minds in the country and determine where the economy is going and where they can go to cope with this crisis, and give a speech on the economy Monday and Tuesday of next week and take that into the next debate."
Anne Hallum Political science professor at Stetson University in DeLand, Florida
"I don't think he's lost the election, at least from Florida's standpoint, because it is only three points apart, but favouring Obama. I have memories of 2000, when Gore lost by only 537 votes. He's in a tough spot, because he's running against his own party. But Americans are tired of the negative attacks.
That's why these first early polls are showing Obama won [the debate last night] because McCain was so negative. It's standard for the person who's behind to be negative. For McCain to turn this around he's got to be positive, stay on point, stay clear with his policy statements ... The odds are against McCain, except that Obama is counting on 18- to 24-year-olds, who aren't reliable."
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