Perspective is easily lost during political campaigns. Overlooked in this year's careening primary season has been the magnitude of Republican John McCain's comeback.
"Front-runner" may be the tag many now apply to the Arizona senator's political status, but barely more than six months ago, "Dead Man Walking" was in vogue.
In early 2007, McCain's outspoken support for the U.S. troop buildup in Iraq was seen as a significant minus. His identification with immigration legislation despised by conservatives posed an even bigger problem. And his campaign was raising too little money while spending too much.
It all came to a head with a massive staff shake-up July 10 -- gone were top advisors; cut were ground troops in Iowa and New Hampshire. And an avalanche of negative press nearly buried McCain.
A day after the staff firings, a story on the ABC News website was headlined: "Death Watch. McCain watches in vain as his dream evaporates."
A RealClearPolitics.com piece began: "It may take weeks, or perhaps even a few months, but the odds are John McCain will drop out of the presidential race . . . before the first vote is cast in Iowa in January"
Charlie Cook, one of Washington's most esteemed nonpartisan pundits, told the New York Times that McCain's campaign was "effectively over. The physicians have left the hospital room, and it's the executors of the estate that are taking over."
And a Los Angeles Times story gauged that McCain's White House bid was "in a state of near-collapse."
McCain is not home free yet. The television advertising blitz Mitt Romney plans for California and other states voting on Tuesday underscores the financial advantage he enjoys -- an edge that could again reshape the race.
-- Don Frederick
Frederick is one of the writers of The Times' political blog, Top of the Ticket, at latimes.com/topoftheticket.
SOME WORDS FOR HIS CRITICS
Hitting back, hand on heart
Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois has gotten tired of what he describes as the people who "want to hoodwink you, to bamboozle you . . . to run the okey-doke on you."
So recently the Democratic presidential candidate has been fighting back against e-mails flying through cyberspace that question his Christianity and his patriotism. In South Carolina he started having young women with shaky voices sing "The Star-Spangled Banner."
In Kansas City, Mo., he gave what was probably the most full-throated defense of his own character, and thousands in the audience helped him out.
"There are e-mails going out saying, you know, I'm a wild Muslim, don't pledge allegiance to the flag," he told the crowd Tuesday. "I've been explaining to people patiently: Well, you know, I've been a member of the same church the last 20 years; I've been praying to Jesus in that church.
"I pledge allegiance to the flag," he said, as supporters chimed in cheering, "of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
-- Maria L. La Ganga
Giuliani's $50-million delegate
The failed campaign of Rudolph W. Giuliani can claim one distinction: the worst bang for the buck of any delegate winner in presidential politics history.
The former New York mayor, who dropped his Republican bid for the presidency this week, disclosed Thursday in a filing with the Federal Election Commission that he raised $58.5 million and spent $48.8 million in 2007.
With his donors' money, Giuliani captured a single national delegate, in Nevada. At that rate, it would have taken close to $60 billion in spending to capture the 1,191 delegates needed to win the nomination.
-- Dan Morain
HOW LONG A HAUL?
A lot can happen in one day
'I'm in it for the long haul. . . . I feel good about how we're doing. You know, anyplace we are able to spend any significant amount of time, when people hear about my fight for the middle class, my fight against entrenched moneyed interests, we get a great response. Because they know it's very personal and very passionate.'
-- John Edwards, on Tuesday, about his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination
'It is time for me to step aside so that history can blaze its path.'
-- John Edwards, on Wednesday, about his decision to quit the race
REBRANDING THE GOP
The right moment for a maverick?
As John McCain officially claimed victory Tuesday night in Florida, he expressed particular pride in having won "an all-Republican primary" -- one where only registered party members can vote.
But as he and his entourage flew cross-country Wednesday to California, one of his staunchest allies stressed that, in his view, one of McCain's main political assets ultimately will stem from his willingness to sometimes buck the GOP.
"How could we possibly win by throwing into the November election someone so tied to the [Republican] label?" asked Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). "Our brand name is hurting."
McCain's reputation as a maverick from the party line is "a godsend for us," Graham said.
Graham noted that in poll after poll, the GOP keeps coming up far short of the Democrats when voters are asked which party they would like to see win the White House.
With those results in mind, Graham said, "Republicans are not stupid -- for us to think that we didn't have to have some adjustment with the general public would be stupid."
-- Maeve Reston
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
'I don't think she's going to listen to him to begin with. Besides, other than his morals, I liked him.'
-- Patsy Newton, 70, of Auburn, Calif., and a Hillary Clinton supporter, on why she isn't concerned about former President Clinton's impact