“Once you pass this line you must repeat must continue exiting” reads the sign at Nashville airport baggage check. Why the emphasis? Well, there’s a big screen TV playing standard awful, sorry, alt-country, immediately outside, and maybe they’d had a few too many travellers coming to the sudden realisation of what being in Nashville involves.

At the taxi rank, the good ol boys in their body-hugging shirts and heavy jewellery roll past the black valet. “You have to wait in line for a taxi sir” “That’s alright little fella we’ll just take this one”. Little fella. The man is in his thirties and if he’s doing this job, he’s got a family. Jesus god, we ain’t in Kansas anymore. This is worse.

With tomorrow’s debate at Belmont University, Barack Obama is stepping into enemy territory, politically and culturally. Though Nashville, to be fair, is a centre of culture and learning, with half a dozen pretty solid universities, beyond the guitar-shaped pools and the Grand Ole Opry, Tennessee will go 20% for McCain in November, unless he…well to be honest I can’t think of anything he could do to turn this state blue.

Root a mule on stage? This is farm country, that’s nothing they haven’t seen. Say “most of you people are office workers, you look like d-cks in those faux ten-gallon hats”? Scream during verse two “could you people shut the f-ck up until you’ve learnt a fourth chord?”.

Maybe, but most likely Tennessee will stand proud agains the n….ice man from the Democrats, who is surely right smart, but just ain’t our cup of tea no thankee. That’s unlikely to be reflected in the town hall meeting style debate tomorrow night, if the organisers have done their job and got a properly diverse crowd.

With the financial bailout/rescue in place, Americans returned to work today to find that…the market was continuing to dive, falling 800 points in one day, before recovering to an overall 300+ point loss, and sitting just below the important 10,000 mark as the closing bell rang.

The day’s recovery would appear to be a simple rebound – there is no reliable forecast on whether it will continue to fall for the rest of the week, or where it will bottom out. But the fact that the passage of a bailout hasn’t given an immediate lift is a worrying sign, since 90% of it is about restoring confidence, rather than – for example the simultaneous $25 billion auto industry bailout – keeping an actual industry spluttering along.

The Wall Street dive continued to feed the widespread feeling that a change of leadership, and on national polls Obama is now leading by a clear 8% averaged across the Gallup, CNN, CBS, and Rasmussen dailies – indeed this is one of the first times they’ve been moving in lock-step. In state polls, most of the swing states that McCain had brought back into his camp have now slipped away – Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Michigan — blue states the McCain team thought could be turned against an ‘elite’ black candidate are now running 7-12% for Obama, as is New Hampshire.

Of the 2004 red states, the Democrats are leading by around 5-8% in New Mexico, Colorado, and Nevada, and 3-5% in Virginia and North Carolina. In the key swing states of Ohio and Florida, you can get whatever numbers you want, but they’re mostly leaning towards Obama, from 1-8%.

The Democrats had high hopes for North Dakota and Montana, but they abandoned those once Palin was selected – she was good for a 5-7% swing back to McCain (why? a lot of Alaskans are from the north-west states, and they identify with her style). But the economic meltdown has given them renewed hope in Indiana and Missouri.

There are, in short, half a dozen pathways by which Obama can get a win without getting Ohio or Florida. There’s only one path for McCain and that is to hold just about everything – though he could survive losing two or three small states, if he kept Ohio and Florida.

Unfortunately for McCain, he’s fighting with funds limited by his acceptance of public money, while Obama can now simply open up multiple fronts of crushing ad-buys. And the McCain camp agree with the Obama team’s conclusion that there’s another 2 or 3% of never-before-registered support out there unmeasured by the current polls. If so, and if the figures don’t come in, there’s the possibility, as Pat Buchanan noted, of a 35-40 state victory and a thorough Republican rout.

For the McCain campaign, the fact that they’ve gone back to the Bill Ayers material, stuff flogged to death during the primary season, is a sign of utmost desperation, like the moment in a stand-up act when the hapless tryout does the “you don’t have neighbours in Kings Cross/Footscray/Cabramatta etc, you have witnesses”. Man, hear that scraping sound, it’s the bottom of the barrel.

Ayers, for those who missed it, was one of the 60s ‘Weathermen’ group, who set a number of bombs at the height of the 60s anti-Vietnam war movement.

Since the 80s, he’s been a Chicago community activist, academic etc, and has since described the Weathermen thing as deluded and wrong. Obama had a few contacts with him during the 90s in various community organisations, including those run by the eminently conservative Annenberg Foundation.

First time round during the primaries, the stuff came up in tandem with fuss about the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. But Hillary and Obama’s other demicratic rivals didn’t pickup the Ayers connection cos…well, cos Bill Clinton pardoned half a dozen Weather Underground folks serving long sentences, during his famous all-night pardoning session on the last day of his presidency.

Fu-Xed News has been running with the Ayers thing incessentantly, and Sarah Palin has now been given the job of taking it out for a walk, telling a Florida crowd today in that whiny fake singsong voice of hers that “Barack Obama thought the country so imperfect that he palled around with domestic terrorists who had attacked their own country.” Big boooing. Presumably it was a north Florida crowd – south of Daytona Beach half those old Jews sunning themselves in Miami are ex-members of the Irgun, who know a thing or two about terrorism, as does the ageing Cuban Bay of Pigs veteran next to them on the sundeck – but I digress.

This strategy is beyond risky – it’s last-roll-of-the-dice, a way of keeping in the game, having something to say, in the hope that something that might happen. That something has narrowed to 1) an attack on Iran, following “horrendous new information about blah”, 2) a terrorist attack in the US, either genuine (al Qaeda would prefer a punchy McCain administration, to add to the chaos) or homegrown, or 3) the assassination of Barack Obama.

By far the most likely of all these highly unlikely possibilities is the third. For McCain the most advantageous time for it to happen would be after the ballots had been printed – since people are still free to vote for a dead candidate, and the electoral college members in states he won would be free to choose whoever they wanted to replace him, in other words an unknown quantity.

Would some enraged ‘patriot’ be so motivated by the increasing likelihood as to take the ultimate step — some sort of redneck, suicide pick-up fertiliser bomb? (Yes, I know fertiliser bombs take hours to go off), yelling yeehah driving towards the podium at a million miles an hour, playing this awful music for dutch courage, dreaming of redneck heaven, franks and beer and seventy-two close female relatives. Does that count as an unknown known, or an unknown unknown?

Well, who knows? That’s the thing about the double unknown, dark energy clustering around the edge of the real. What seems unthinkable before it happens, appears inevitable in retrospect. Whatever the case, we’re into the final days, and the McCain campaign has crossed the line and must, repeat, must continue exiting.

Peter Fray

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