As his campaign rattles to an end, John McCain has never been better on the stump. Not a natural orator, McCain finally has found his voice.
"Stand up! Stand up! Stand up and fight!" McCain thundered Monday in Blountville, Tenn. "We never give up! We never quit! We never hide from history; we make history!"
And he will make history Tuesday night. He will enter the history books either as having pulled off one of the greatest upsets in modern political history or for having run one of its worst campaigns.
As of now, he appears to be heading for the latter. Let's take a look just at some recent examples.
How about that Dick Cheney endorsement Saturday? Wasn't that a brilliant move with just three days to go in the race?
Here is John McCain struggling to demonstrate to the voters that his election will not represent four more years of the George W. Bush administration, and so who does McCain's campaign trot out? The leading architect of the George W. Bush administration!
You would have a hard time finding a less popular national political figure in America today than Dick Cheney. His approval rating is around 18. And that is 18 people, not 18 percent. (OK, OK, I am kidding. But an 18 percent approval rating is pretty awful.)
In September, the McCain campaign artfully avoided having Cheney and Bush show up at the Republican National Convention by basically canceling the first day of the convention, allegedly because of concerns over Hurricane Gustav.
It was a pretty nifty move which the campaign has now undone by wheeling out Cheney. And did the McCain campaign really think Barack Obama would miss the opportunity to exploit it? The Obama campaign immediately put up an ad attacking the endorsement, and Obama mocked it from the stump.
"Yesterday, Dick Cheney came out of his undisclosed location and hit the campaign trail," Obama said. "That endorsement didn't come easy. Sen. McCain had to vote 90 percent of the time with George Bush and Dick Cheney to get it."
So what is the defense for Cheney's thoroughly unnecessary high-profile endorsement of McCain? (Cheney, after all, had already announced his support for McCain.) Well, it was supposed to energize the base.
But haven't we heard that one before? Wasn't the selection of Sarah Palin supposed to energize the base?
The trouble with this strategy is not just that part of the Republican base has recoiled from Sarah Palin but that the Republican base has never been smaller. McCain's great strength as a candidate was supposed to be his ability to reach beyond the base and get swing voters. Does Palin help with that? Does Cheney?
But wait. There is also Joe the Plumber. Joe the Plumber real name: Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher has become the embodiment of the McCain campaign, its central image. The McCain campaign has Joe the Plumber tours and Joe the Plumber rallies and an "I am Joe the Plumber" commercial.
Not content, however, to be a symbol of middle-class anxiety over Barack Obama (which is what he is supposed to be, I guess), Wurzelbacher decided to show off his own foreign policy credentials.
At a rally in Ohio last week, a McCain supporter in the crowd asked Wurzelbacher if he agreed that "a vote for Obama is a vote for the death of Israel."
Wurzelbacher replied: "I'll go ahead and agree with you on that."
When asked later on Fox News to explain his extraordinary statement, Wurzelbacher demurred. "You don't want my opinion on foreign policy," he said. "I know just enough about foreign policy to probably be dangerous."
And then there was "Saturday Night Live" over the weekend. I admire John McCain for appearing on the show so close to Election Day. And he did show a flash of the old, easygoing, likable John McCain from 2000.
But I thought the evening turned out to be more poignant than funny.
I winced during the sketch when Tina Fey, impersonating Sarah Palin, joked that the McCain campaign was hopeless. "OK, listen up, everybody, I am goin' rogue right now, so keep your voices down," Fey/Palin said. "Available now, we got a buncha these 'Palin in 2012' T-shirts. Just try and wait until after Tuesday to wear 'em, OK?"
John McCain the real one was standing a few feet away and gamely went on with the show, coming back to do a bit about how he might adopt some new strategies to save his campaign.
One, he said, was the "sad grandpa" strategy.
"That's where I get on TV and go, 'C'mon, Obama's gonna have plenty of chances to be president! It's my turn! Vote for me!'" McCain said.
In the final days of this campaign, John McCain has indeed found his voice. Sometimes tough, sometimes appealing ... and sometimes sad.