Now Princess is talking bout how she/he’s going to be a star
Warming up her pasties, dragging on a silk-cut low tar
Rain on painted windows, Freebird on the PA
Tonight I’ll bet on black, see if I can get a place to stay
Off the boardwalk, off the boardwalk
Jaqueline Lee, Off the Boardwalk (Rykodisk, ’83)

3pm, and halfway through trying to knock a couple of chapters, together, trying to remember where, who, or indeed what, I was in March, shuffle out of the Tropicana to do some shopping. Zen art of surfing the four-star hotel, never buy anything there, not a sandwich, not a Snickers from the minimart, not an in-room movie.

The foyer is “the Quarter”, a faux Cuban place centred around a bunch of Spanish restaurants run by the Maltese mafia, the walls painted in lurid colours, with an arcade of shops that includes a “spy store”, selling body armour. Close to the till, cos that sort of thing, here, is an impulse buy…

Outside, you’re among the row houses as soon as you leave the climate-controlled environment, which most of the guests never do. Add the smell of urine and disinfectant and these hotels would get nursing home funding.

The row houses are half-boarded up — for sale $500,000, one reads in a handwritten sign of desperate hopefulness — waiting for the next casino, the one that never came. Public transport here is Jitneys, small 10-person buses that stop every 50 yards, and never bother to close their doors. ‘Since 1915’ they read. They must have been horse-drawn once, hence the bucolic name, trotting past the Tropicana guest house, the Bel Air, etc etc.

No logic to the small convenience stores here — they seem to have split up basic foodstuffs as a way to make a profit. Cheese slices in one, crackers in the next. The third sells ultraviolet lightbulbs and pregnancy tests.

Everyone on the street makes eye contact, but nothing much friendly about it, they seem to be keeping their eyes on your hands. In the 24 hour Atlantic City international newsagency and peep show, I buy a copy of the National Review and the American Conservative.

“Sarah Palin hmmmm,” says the large woman, cashing me up. “You want a bag honey?”

“Maybe I should buy some p-rn to put the National Review in.”

She laughs so hard she spits tobacco juice over me, her chest growling and bubbling like the waves against the Steel Pier. The place is full of photocopied guides to card-counting, most of them transparently bogus. It smells of dead cigars.

The city smells of dead cigars. The sign outside the shop reads “drug free zone next 500 metres”, which has the air of a consumer warning: drought ahead.

Outside it seems like the election may as well be happening in Estonia. Nothing will ever reach Atlantic City, because it is a conspiracy of the doomed who kinda like the feel of that. Back in the room, it is Cspan and CNN and MSNBC and the whole thing is hysteria.

Some people may say I should be out on the road for the last two weeks — subscribers, editors, those types — and I will be there on the front line in Ohio or wherever listening to McCain say, again, “I will make the earmarkers famous, you will know their names” and Sarah Palin say ‘”oe the Plumber said that sharing the wealth sounded like socialism” and Barack Obama say “let’s rally around a staged redistribution of selective benefits in order to grow the economy are you with me?” and Joe Biden say “Barack is from the planet Zargoz 7, elves told me so”.

But the candidates are on a final circuit now, doing pretty much what they have to do which is simply keep going. Polls show that 7% of voters are still undecided which makes people from all parties want to hunt them down and slap them and say “what the f-ck is wrong with you are you just stupid?”.

But of course that means that another 10-20% may be persuadable, and that — whichever way it runs — is the election. For McCain and Palin, the endless stumps are a mixed blessing. The crowds turning up for McCain solo are just pitiful, which means they have to do a certain amount of campaigning together, which limits effectiveness.

But they also have the problem that the demands of their live audience are very different from those of the moderates and independents they need to convince. Most of these shindigs are now broadcast on cable, yet doing anything less than howling at the moon about “socialism” gets tepid applause … what’s a Republican to do?

For Obama, well there ain’t no problems. He had 100,000 people — a record — at a rally in St Louis the other day, and what he says to them is exactly the same thing he’s saying to the whole of America. Though the oracular, prophetic Obama is long ago, replaced by a cautious third-way politician, people still flock to him, for the simple reason that calm good sense, in post-crash America, is prophetic and oracular.

Anyone suggesting that reflection and cautious action might be a good way to go is prophetic and oracular these days.

Obama’s problem of course is good old Joe, his VP choice. Make no mistake about it, it was a good choice. Biden has been going around the backblocks, Pennsylvania and Ohio, old white guy union towns, Deerhunter country, scooping up wayward working class people who might still have reservations about voting for a schwartze. Obama’s slowly rising lead in thes states is partly attributable to Joe Biden.

But christ the bloke’s a d-ckhead. He’s an old style polly, schooled in the discipline of “keep talking”. Keep the show on the road, keep the meeting going. Speaking to fundraisers and clearly not thinking about the contemporary world of total surveillance, Biden spat out that stuff about Obama facing some sort of crisis etc etc etc in the first six months of his term, Why why why?

Simply put, he couldn’t stop speaking. The old streetcorner type of politician, he’s spent his whole life training himself to never stop speaking. Whereas the dominant political skill, now is to be short and sharp and haikuish.

“Joe has rhetorical flourishes,” Obama said today, spinning the statement into a general observation about the dangers any President will face etc etc.

Coincidentally, McCain was doing a sit down interview for CNN the same day, which allowed him to go into the “Obama hasn’t been tested — I’ve been tested, I was on the deck of an aircraft carrier with a target during the Cuban Missile Crisis” etc etc. Fair enough, though that hardly tested McCain, since he had no strategic role — he was just the monkey running the jet, one of the few he didn’t wreck. But the strange thing about McCain was that his responses to the question were simply a cut and paste of earlier responses, not anything that sounded authentic or honest or from the heart. It will cheer up the diehards but it won’t persuade waverers, especially younger voters.

Nevertheless, it was the Chequers speech compared to Sarah Palin. My God, that woman has been the greatest single disaster for the McCain campaign bar … anything. Anything. She is now, at around 40%, the single greatest reason why independent voters will not vote for John McCain, way ahead of McCain’s “approach to the economy”. And that was before recent revelations that she had rorted government spending to get travel for her kids (including five days in an NY hotel for her daughter Bristol, while Governor Palin was on a one-day visit to the city), and that the RNC had spent a hundred and fifty grand on clothes for her.

The hundred and fifty grand tells you all you need to know about the McCain campaign. Obviously a female candidate has to have a bit of money spent on her, and always look first rate — but a hundred and fifty Gs? For eight weeks? Thirty, forty — more than a year’s income for a quarter of the US population — yes, but 150 large is a measure of the standards of the sort of people McCain has surrounded himself with, the inner-circle Republicans, who’ve never been able to craft a winning strategy because, deep down, they’ve never really understood how most Americans live.

You can see this everytime their two key spokespeople come on. Tucker Bounds is a sort of Doogie Howser 14-year-old spinmeister with a whiny little manner that has ‘raped in prison’ written all over it. He has that technique that UK politicians first developed, of trained circular breathing that actors use for Shakespeare monologues, and which allows you to speak for a minute without a break.

The other one is Nancy Pfotenhauer, the sort of thin Beltway blonde who would cut a prole like Palin dead if she ever managed to get beyond the ropeline. Perpetually nervy, Pfotenahauer looks like a woman who spends a lot of time sobbing hysterically behind locked bathroom doors about something you didn’t know you’d said, but man she can dress. Thirty times I’ve seen her on cable at least and every outfit is a designer original.

That should have been a clue to the McCain campaign right there. Team Obama may have its shortcomings, on which I have dilated at length here, but they look like a bunch of focused professionals in cheap suits and chain store specials (Obama spends fifteen hundred dollars on a suit, but it’s the genius of the man that he makes it look much much cheaper). Why didn’t McCain realise that he was surrounded by the Dartmouth valedictorian crowd?

Because of course McCain himself has always been part of that crowd. The fourth child of an Admiralty family, had John Sidney McCain IV not been born to the purple, he would never have got a pilot’s commission after his disastrous Academy result — and never got a second plane after he crashed the first. Everything he’s got today he owes to the Vietcong, (and there are questions about his conduct while a POW, but these have been swept over).

Having returned to an ex-model wife disfigured by an auto accident, he dumped her for a beer heiress — a marriage of prestige and money that would have had Anthony Trollope shouting “oh come on!” He’s never had a private sector job, never been poor, never lived between paychecks. His prison experience was testing, but it was extraordinary, garish even — the sort of thing people see at the Multiplex, and less impressive to a media-saturated society than the Republicans could wish. In a society where Jack Bauer is raised in presidential debates, real suffering ain’t that impressive. “Them VCs beat you, man? You shoulda seen what they did to Kiefer in Season Three!”

McCain drafted in the evil Karl Rove crowd — including the people who’d trashed his wife and daughter in the 2000 primaries — but it wasn’t enough. The conservative movement has withered on the vine, and so the only people left there are the blinkered careerists — the girls in pearls and boys in blue suits and red ties — who could never imagine why anyone would vote other than Republican, and they don’t play well with others. If half your team has first names that are surnames — Tyler Cantwell, Grover Norquist, Hobart Grierson — guess which ones I made up…

The clothes thing and the kids’ travel thing will simply serve to confirm to many people what they’ve thought for a while about Palin – that she’s a fraud, a tundra Eve Harrington (google it, Bolt), denied a glittering TV career and finding politics a path to fame by other means. Having stood up to big Alaska corruption, she couldn’t wait to take a cut of small Alaska corruption — the per diems taken while she was staying at her own house, the free travel, heavying the sister’s ex-wife etc etc.

It’s pretty interesting that her support is lowest among independent-aligned women — exactly the sort of Hillary-leaning crowd the GOP was trying to get in. They’re a wake-up to her. Her base? Fundamentalists and young single men. Freaks for Jesus and Maxim readers, what a coalition.

And, if too much weren’t enough: Arnold Schwarzenegger’s just recorded an interview on CNN saying that Palin would “become ready to be President” while Obama was a “visionary”. Way to go Arnie, very far rom the sinking ship.

Well, she was a spin of the wheel, Palin was, a real last-chance Atlantic City bet. Oh come on that’s a great call-back. She was like a last chance coke deal to save a hooker with a kid. No hang on, that was Burt Lancaster. Everything is on the roll of a dice in America today, from the financial non-recovery, to McCain’s last stand in Pennsylvania, and the sense that the country’s going to change on the turn of a card, with the economy — the Dow down another 500 today, on its way to 5000 – on the spin of a wheel — bet it all on black I would suggest, and if you’re lucky enough to get a view of the ocean — the giant Trump sign throwing light over the whole benighted town — never order from room service, never forget where you came from, never forget what’s 40 storeys below.