John McCain has a real uphill challenge over the next 30+ days.

Just about every major poll shows him trailing by 5 points or so, and in the key battleground red states– Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Ohio — he’s also lagging.  The politics of the bailout, his campaign suspension, and debate performance did not help him; in fact, it probably cost him a few points.  No candidate has ever overcome this large a deficit after October first. 

And next on the horizon: the vice presidential debate.  Boy … McCain really needs a game changer — he can’t withstand another awful week — and in that sense his campaign may hinge on Palin’s performance.

If the race was a dead-heat, Palin would be able to play defense and simply rope-a-dope her way through the debate.  However, with McCain trailing badly, he actually needs her to go on the offensive and score points.  It won’t be enough for her to just survive and look adequate; she needs to take the fight to Biden, and recapture some of the momentum that she had during the convention.

It might be too much to ask of Palin, but the McCain people can’t play it safe.  They’re going to have to let “Sarah be Sarah” and see where the chips fall.

Politics Palin's debate performance looms large