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It was only a month ago that Democrats had a serious fear of losing the 2008 presidential election. The nomination of Sarah Palin was thought to be the beginning of the end of the Obama juggernaut. This was the first time that McCain had held a lead nationally since May — far before Obama had wrapped up the nomination.

In spite of a ringing endorsement the week of the Democratic National Convention from both Senator Clinton and her husband, the former president, disaffected Clinton supporters were supposed to be ready to throw their support Sarah Palin and sink Obama for his bitter primary battle with the New York senator.

Headlines around the world featured “McCain picks woman as running mate” and the Republican base was energized for the first time since McCain was nominated, with record levels of volunteers and donations streaming to the McCain campaign. The Republican Party had a reason to be excited.

Guess what’s happening now?

John McCain is not a happy camper. More people believe that Sarah Palin is not qualified to be president than believe she is qualified. Voters are especially concerned with McCain’s age with respect to the vice-presidency, as Sarah Palin would literally be a heartbeat away from the presidency.

If elected into office, McCain will become 72 years-old on inauguration day, the oldest start to the job of the presidency in history.

CBS News released a national poll on Wednesday featuring a 14 point lead for Obama.

14 points!

After going through two nail biting elections where the margin of victory was 1-2 percent, 14 points is huge. As long as national tracking polls have been around, no candidate has come back from a double digit deficit with less than 3 weeks to go and win.

On top of this, Obama has the advantage in the electoral math. His poll numbers in the Kerry states plus Iowa, New Mexico, Colorado, and Virginia — a winning combination — are all above his national average. This means that McCain cannot only tie Obama in the popular vote — he needs to gain a solid lead to guarantee victory.

Therefore, if McCain wants to win, he has to upset the applecart in a major way. He does not have many opportunities left to do so. Now that the debates are finished, he really only has a chance to either come out with a major story about Obama, seize on a major international incident hugely favorable to the Republican party (think terrorist attack or war with Russia), or wait for Obama to make a major election changing gaffe.

Continuing with the status quo, or even making a small dent in his numbers on the basis of the same tired stories will result in an Obama victory. It’s time for the Hail-Mary play — otherwise McCain will be stuck sitting on his hands waiting for a unlikely gift from the extraordinarily disciplined Obama campaign.

Will McCain go out with a whimper or a bang?

Spenser Skates is a member of the Class of 2010.