But chaos, it turns out, does not favor just one side. The credit crisis in the last two weeks of September raised an issue that has, so far at least, helped Obama. McCain railed against Wall Street and called for the firing of Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Christopher Cox. Obama argued that the crisis showed the failure of Reaganite deregulation.
McCain unaccountably failed to make his strongest argument. The roots of the crisis lie in both parties' encouragement of greater homeownership. But at critical points, notably in 2005, some Republicans, including McCain, called for tighter regulation of the mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. This was resisted by Democrats, with no demur from Obama.
Nor did McCain's "suspension" of his campaign and return to Washington help him. Democrats said he broke up a deal, though none had been made. He did help draw House Republicans into negotiations. But the suboptimal performance of administration and legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle resulted in the House vote on Sept. 29 rejecting the rescue package. Any chance McCain could take credit was gone.
Current polls show Obama with a significant lead nationally and ahead in states like Colorado, Virginia and North Carolina that George W. Bush carried comfortably in 2000 and 2004. McCain has finally put up ads arguing that he sought regulation of Fannie and Freddie, but they may be two weeks too late.
Now, McCain needs to do more than pick off two or three states that seem narrowly in the Obama column. He needs to change the whole tenor of the campaign. He will get a chance to do so in the two remaining presidential debates, but Obama's smooth performance in the first debate suggests that may be difficult.
Chaos has already given McCain and his party a lift up three times, and then knocked them down. Is it possible that there is more chaos ahead?