Pundits keep asking whether this is 1980 all over again . . . where the charismatic newcomer (Reagan) passed the Commander-in-Chief threshold in a country that was ready to go in a new direction.

But this election reminds me of another high profile contest that should be fresh in all of our memories. . . Obama v. Clinton ’08.

When you think October 2008, just remember this past February. At that time, Obama’s challenge was to convince the electorate that he was just as prepared and had just as much a grasp of the issues as Clinton. When Obama convinced his doubters that he belonged on the same stage as his oppoenent, he proceeded to roll off 11 straight victories and built a lead Hillary would never overcome.

What did Hillary do when she saw her numbers dive???? She employed the “kitchen-sink” strategy.

If you think back to February, you’ll remember that this was the time Hillary started throwing any and every argument at the wall to see if it would stick. She effectively created “Hillaryland” a magical place where delegates and math didn’t matter. The goal posts kept moving and the drama got progressively worse as her chances of winning drifted further and further away.

It wasn’t a dramatic switch so much as a steady and consistent trend that put Obama over the top.

We are approaching a similar scenario with McCain. Time is getting short and McCain needs something, anything, to change the game.

Just as we saw in February, undecided voters are starting to pay more attention to Obama. They like what they see.

A new CBS poll reports:

Immediately after the debate, CBS News interviewed a nationally representative sample of nearly 500 debate watchers assembled by Knowledge Networks who were “uncommitted voters” – voters who are either undecided about who to vote for or who say they could still change their minds. Thirty-nine percent of these uncommitted debate watchers said Obama won the debate. Twenty-four percent said McCain won, and another 37 percent thought it was a tie.

Nearly half of those uncommitted voters who watched the debate said that their image of Obama changed for the better as a result. (emphasis added)

McCain’s camp sees where this is headed. The Washington Post reports that the McCain camp hopes to change the subject, stop the bleeding and bring a race that’s been trending Obama’s direction back to “toss-up” status.

via The Washington Post:

The burden now falls on Sen. John McCain to reverse the effects of the focus on the economy, and to keep the contest close enough so that a dominant debate performance, a gaffe by Obama or some outside event can shift the momentum back to him. . .

Schmidt said the campaign will press two arguments as forcefully as possible in the coming days. One is that Obama is not ready to be commander in chief and that, in a time of two wars, “his policies will make the world more dangerous and America less secure.” Second, he said, McCain will argue that, in a time of economic crisis, Obama will raise taxes and spending and “will make our economy worse.”

But here’s the key point . . .

[S]trategists said McCain will be challenged to reverse current trends, particularly in a year in which voters are gloomy about the state of the country and are looking for a change in direction after eight years of President Bush’s policies.

“What begins to happen is that the margin that’s been in place begins to solidify more and more,” said Matthew Dowd, who was Bush’s chief strategist in 2004 and is now an independent analyst. “There’s only two ways this can go,” he added. “It will either solidify with an Obama four- to five- point lead, or it will loosen and go back to close and go back and forth.” (The Washington Post)

Translation: McCain’s trending downward and he is running out of time.

Something tells me we should expect to see McCain embark on his own version of the “kitchen sink” strategy if polls continue to show a steady and consistent shift towards Obama.

This strategy has not been lost on the conservative punditry . . .

TalkingPointsMemo characterized conservative columnist, Bill Kristol’s, latest op-ed as follows:

John McCain’s editorial page id, Bill Kristol, has some new advice for the campaign. In so many words, even more of the erratic and impulsive shenanigans that after the last two weeks have many of McCain’s one-time admirers thinking he has a personality disorder that makes him unfit to occupy the Oval Office.

That, “liberate” Sarah Palin and more hyping of the financial markets crisis.

Along the way we learn that McCain’s advisors are “trapped by conventional wisdom, huddled in a defensive crouch and overcome by ideological timidity.” And they’ve “succeeded in importing to the Palin campaign the trademark defensive crouch of the Bush White House.”

The idea seems to be to double down on wooing the always-coveted impulse-control-deficit constituency. (Josh Marshall, TPM)

FYI . . . Bill Kristol also floats the idea of bringing Rev. Wright back into the picture.

Get ready folks . . . we’re heading into crunch time. If this is any indication of what to expect, prepare for the kitchen sink.

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