Dick Morris and  Eileen McGann

John McCain isn't dead in the water. But he sure is dying. He lost the debate and the polls are dismal. Gallup has him down 50-42. Rasmussen has Obama ahead 50-44. And both polls are only partially after the debate. Obama won the debate. When the polls come in fully after the debate, the picture won't get any prettier for those of us who favor McCain.

His gambit of suspending his campaign and going to Washington has failed because he did not think it through adequately or correlate it with what was happening in Congress. The Republicans teed up a perfect shot for him. He took the bat but went back to the dugout without even swinging. McCain should have gone into the debate challenging Obama on his $700 billion taxpayer bailout of financial institutions. He should have pushed the Republican alternative. He could have said, plain and simple, that Obama wants to make Americans pay for $700 billion in bad mortgages and McCain wants to make businesses pay for their own bailout through loans and insurance premiums. It would have been a straight shot. But McCain copped out and mumbled something about the deal being the "end of the beginning" and said he hoped to vote for the bailout. It was a failure that may have cost him his best shot at the presidency.

But not his only shot. McCain can still win.

He needs to deploy the tax issue. His campaign has to stop the scattershot web ads and focus instead on a sustained attack on Obama's plans for tax increases. Stop the pinpricks and go for the jugular. It is only through the tax issue that McCain can win this campaign.

Voters understand that our economy is vulnerable and teetering on the brink of a black hole. McCain needs to capitalize on this new sense of vulnerability and hammer away at the Obama tax proposals. He needs to say that our system is starving for capital. Raising capital gains taxes, much less doubling it as Obama proposed during the primaries (but now is trying to backtrack), is like taxing water in the desert. McCain has to talk about Obama's spending proposals and mock the idea that he can spend a trillion and still give "95% of Americans" a tax increase.

Dick Morris and Eileen McGann

Dick Morris, a former political adviser to Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and President Bill Clinton, is the author of 2010: Take Back America. To get all of Dick Morris’s and Eileen McGann’s columns for free by email, go to www.dickmorris.com