Six weeks ago, I was a little more bullish for McCain than I am now.
McCain's campaign seems to me to be floundering. I was optimistic that he could establish some critical distance from the Bush Administration, and I think he has. But, we've seen too much of the crotchety old guy persona, a la Bob Dole, and it's not wearing well. We're in a different spot than 1996 and there is no general desire for a changing of the generational guard like there was then.
But, we are in a difficult situation with real problems that have to be addressed. So far, McCain's energy policy is to support offshore drilling but oppose ANWR development. What is the rationale for this? If anything it makes more sense the other way, to get some more energy resources to the market without spoiling the view for some coast-dwelling Floridians. The whole thing smacks of a baby-splitting exercise from a pol who thinks the political process controls a lot bigger fraction of reality than it actually does.
If he can show that he can see outside the Beltway cocoon and really gets it wrt the scope of today's particular issues, he'll probably become President. As it happens I suspect this will be a matter of teaching old dogs new tricks.
Update: one more thing. As I mentioned before, I think I overestimated McCain's ability to swim against the tide as an independent in a Democratic year. I do think that he's established that he's not George W Bush, but that's not enough. Because the underlying environment is unhospitable for Republicans, he has to define very concretely the rationale for his candidacy, and frankly I don't know what it is.
If I were directing his campaign, I would have the candidate assert that he, John McCain appreciates the depth of our problems, and is uniquely prepared to get us through the tough times that lie ahead. It's credible (to me at least), and it ties in all the big-ticket items in this election cycle: Iraq, housing, debt, energy, inflation, etc. It also of necessity distances him from the Bush Administration, and differentiates him from Obama, who seems prepared to read from a Teleprompter and nothing else.
If he were to come up Boone Pickens-like energy plan, people will listen. If he just says, "Get off my lawn!", he'll be ignored.