One year ago, John McCain's campaign was broke. He had slashed his staff. He resorted to taking commercial flights to some campaign events. And very few people took the then-71-year-old candidate's presidential aspirations seriously.
A Quinnipiac University National Poll released Aug. 15, 2007, put Rudy Giuliani in the lead for the Republican Party nomination with support from 28 percent of likely voters. Mitt Romney followed with 15 percent. Then Fred Thompson with 12 percent. At 11 percent, McCain was struggling to stay above single digits.
He was on the losing side of the biggest public opinion issue of the day. The former naval aviator had staked his political fate on his faith that a new commander with a new strategy and more combat troops could pull Iraq out of a death spiral.
That was at a time when Hillary Clinton was telling Gen. David Petraeus that his report on progress in Iraq required "the willing suspension of disbelief." When Barack Obama declared at the Senate hearing with Petraeus, "The time to end the surge and to start bringing our troops home is now, not six months from now."
Even formerly strong proponents of the war in the Republican Party were bending to public opinion polls and looking for an exit.
McCain stood firm. "I would rather lose a campaign than lose a war," he said at a campaign stop in California.
Against long odds very long odds McCain will accept his party's nomination for president at the Republican National Convention on Thursday night in St. Paul. Against even longer odds, he is within striking distance of winning the campaign he was willing to lose.
Many things had to happen just right for McCain to take the stage this week. Giuliani had to gamble unsuccessfully on a strategy that focused on big state and multi-state primaries at the expense of early contests in Iowa and New Hampshire. Mike Huckabee had to peel away social conservative votes from Mitt Romney.
Petraeus and the brave men and women under him had to affirm McCain's belief that progress in Iraq was possible, and that abandoning Iraq to the furies of al-Qaida and sectarian death squads would pile disaster upon the blunders of U.S. occupation.
But mostly, McCain had to keep faith in himself and stay in the fight. Faith and fight two words that are indispensable to a description of the man who spent more than five years in a North Vietnamese prison. As he wrote in his autobiography:
"Glory belongs to the act of being constant to something greater than yourself, to a cause, to your principles, to the people on whom you rely, and who rely on you in return. No misfortune, no injury, no humiliation can destroy it.
"This is the faith that my commanders affirmed, that my brothers-in-arms encouraged my allegiance to. It was the faith I had unknowingly embraced at the Naval Academy. It was my father's and grandfather's faith. A filthy, crippled, broken man, all I had left of my dignity was the faith of my fathers. It was enough."
As Republicans gather for their national convention, the question for John McCain is this: "Does he have enough to seal the deal?"
Can he motivate the social conservative base of the Republican Party that was instrumental to George W. Bush's victories in two presidential elections? Can he do so in a way that retains his appeal to independent voters and rebuilds Ronald Reagan's big tent? And can he overcome the tremendous financial, organizational and fashionable advantages of Barack Obama?
It would be foolish to assume that he can't.