Salena Zito

Never give up, never give in, and never let the pundits decide when your campaign is over.

While the pundits sit at their desks crunching numbers and dial-testing a score of people, Joe Wurzelbacher, the Ohio plumber whose concern over Barack Obama's tax plan became the centerpiece of the last presidential debate, tells a different story.

Wurzelbacher told ABC News after the debate that Obama's tax plan infuriates him: “It's not right for someone to decide you made too much -- that you've done too good, and now we're going to take some of it back.”

Perhaps pundits should start listening more and talking or number-crunching less. Science and stats do not vote, but Wurzelbacher does.

The pundits don’t listen, however. Instead, their echo chamber tells us the election’s over: John McCain lost the debates and all that’s left is for the fat lady to sing. (Of course, they would never say “fat” because that is not politically correct.)

Historically speaking, McCain has never run a great campaign; in fact, he has never run even a good campaign. McCain has gotten to where he is by being John McCain.

He became the Republican presidential nominee on his own terms, and no leg of that journey was pretty.

Now McCain is up against a man who turned the skill set he learned as a community organizer into an perfectly tuned, cash-flush campaign machine. Once again, things are not looking good for McCain.

University of Arkansas political scientist Bob Maranto sees several mistakes McCain has made and he is uncertain if time remains to correct them.

“He should have defined Obama as dangerously liberal last summer,” Maranto says. Since the time to do so is past, he thinks McCain should be pointing out that Obama has never said a good thing about the free-market system.

“Obama has tried to claim credit for non-accomplishments, like writing a single letter two years back saying he was concerned about mortgage lending,” he says. “That's it, a letter. No proposal, no legislation, no nothing.”

Maranto adds that McCain should be pounding Obama for his very liberal voting record, lots of missed votes and lots of “present” votes in the Illinois Legislature -- “basically, a liberal who has accomplished nothing.”

Yet this election is not about tactics so much as it is about toughness.

Every person who will vote already knows the two candidates. Republican strategist David Carney says that, on Election Day, Obama’s base will vote for him and McCain’s base will vote for McCain.

Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.