ABC News' Rick Klein reports in Tuesday's Note:
NASHVILLE -- Now that the race is suddenly less about what you know than it is about who you once knew, the real question is not -- as Sen. John McCain would have it -- who the real Barack Obama is.
The real question is: Who is the real John McCain? (And is he listening to Sarah Palin?)
McCain and Obama enter Tuesday night’s second presidential debate at Belmont University with a real sense of a race that’s slipping away from McCain -- and a growing realization in GOP circles that the Republican ticket has a dwindling number of chances to reclaim the narrative.
(If the national polls don’t convince you -- take Ohio, please.)
McCain gets the format he wants, but not the backdrop. If the debate follows the logical progression of the week, we will continue down the path of least subsistence into out-and-out, guilt-by-association name-calling -- led there, in all likelihood, by McCain, whose campaign is trying to thrust “character” into a campaign that may not welcome it.
Does McCain want to go there? Will/should even nasty attacks register when compared to the psychological blows arriving in mailboxes these days, depicting shattered 401(k)s? And with Tuesday night’s town-hall format, does a candidate want to throw bombs when there are civilians in range?
It may be too late for those choices: It’s on, and it’s ugly. In the run-up to the debate No. 2, McCain and (particularly) Palin have gone personal -- and Team Obama responded by bringing up the Keating 5.
“Who is the real Barack Obama?” McCain said Monday (with now-casual references to Obama’s “lies”), per ABC’s Jake Tapper and Bret Hovell. “Even at this late hour in the campaign there are things we don’t know about Senator Obama or the record that he brings to this campaign.”
And -- going further, but still not as far as she wants to go -- Palin “invoked fear for the first time when discussing Sen. Barack Obama’s connection to former 60’s radical William Ayers,” per ABC’s Imtiyaz Delawala.
“I am just so fearful that this is not a man who sees America the way that you and I see America -- as the greatest source for good in this world,” said Palin, R-Alaska.
Continue reading today's Note by clicking HERE.
ABC News' Hope Ditto contributed to this report.