The spin cycle

  • Gavin Hewitt
  • 8 Oct 08, 10:58 PM GMT

Nashville, Tennessee: Spin Alley has become part of the ritual of the Presidential debates. Five minutes before the debate ends the camera crews and reporters crowd together waiting for the candidate's inner circle to come and make the pitch. The campaign managers, strategists and communications directors have heralds who arrive with large boards carrying their names.They're like Roman senators or prize fighters waiting for the standard to be placed and for the the contest to begin.

The spinners arrive within minutes of the debate ending. In the world of 24-hour news it is vital to get the line out there, to shape the news agenda. Even so it is surprising to stand there and to listen as these spinmeisters are asked "Who won?" as if they might opine that their candidate had had a bad night.

My expectations were slight yet last night in Nashville there was a rare ray of candour and it came from the Republican camp. Standing under his banner was Steve Schmidt,
John McCain's campaign manager. Yes, he said, we feel very good about John McCain's performance but then the candid assessment: "It remains a very close race," he said, but John McCain had a "tighter hill to climb than his opponent".

"We understand the difficulty," he said, in having an "R" next to your name. He was making the point that the Republican brand was hurting his candidate."We're still behind," he acknowledged, "but we remain in striking distance."

Privately the McCain team believe that if the focus remains on the economy they lose. In the congested space of Spin Alley I bumped into Fred Thompson, the former Presidential candidate. He thought McCain had had a good night but went on to say that the fate of the economy would determine the election. "To the extent it (the economy) goes down, it will hurt John."

The McCain campaign are wrestling with the problem. Just three weeks ago McCain was ahead or even. With the markets in free-fall the mood is growing that America is on the wrong Track. It is hard to make the case that you are the candidate of change when your party have controlled the White House for the past eight years.

That is the Republican dilemma and they're not disguising it.

And as the economy works in his favour, Barack Obama tries to reassure, to look Presidential. No magic needed. As their communications director, Robert Gibbs, said to me last night, "we couldn't be more thrilled".

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