I listened to the debate on the radio last night, and thus didn’t catch a lot of the facial expressions that McCain was being docked for by analysts. In clips this morning, I see what people were talking about. The Arizona senators aggressiveness was accompanied by an unattractive edginess, something that was especially unbecoming considering the Obama campaigns recent charges of McCain’s erratic personality. And that look on TV is something that matters to viewers. Just ask Richard Nixon. That’s interesting, because as I listened, I had the thing scored mostly a tie, and it was definitely McCain’s best performance – he was on message and on the offensive, and nastiness aside, he did well, though he didn’t deliver the game changing performance that common sense says he needed to.

That said, when you base your last month of campaign ads and your entire debate strategy on calling your opponent’s readiness and reputation into question, it’s hard to put all nastiness aside. I was particularly struck by this startlingly strong comment by McCain that was almost lost in the sea of references to an Ohio plumber last night. (Italics mine)

We need to know the full extent of Senator Obama’s relationship with ACORN, who is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy.

Now, we all expected McCain to be on the attack, and he was. But this line seems like it carries something more. It’s the sort of thing I would say if I was staring down the barrel of a loss in the November election and was considering challenging vote counts in close states. With the GOP turning all of their guns on McCain’s former friends at ACORN, and McCain himself now talking about the threat to the basic fabric of American democracy that the group represents, it wouldn’t be shocking to learn that the campaign was preparing the paperwork for a Bush v Gore style contention.

Am I being too cynical? I certainly hope so. But with raids being carried out on registration offices already, I don’t think a challenge of at least one close state is out of the question, though that decision may rest in how close the election ends up being on November 4th.