October 12, 2008 Concern in G.O.P. After Rough Week for McCain By ADAM NAGOURNEY and ELISABETH BUMILLER After a turbulent week that included disclosures about Gov. Sarah Palin and signs that Senator John McCain was struggling to strike the right tone for his campaign, Republican leaders said Saturday that they were worried Mr. McCain was heading for defeat unless he brought stability to his presidential candidacy and settled on a clear message to counter Senator Barack Obama. Again and again, party leaders said in interviews that while they still believed that Mr. McCain could win over voters in the next 30 days, they were concerned that he and his advisers seemed to be adrift in dealing with an extraordinarily challenging political battleground and a crisis on Wall Street. The expressions of concern came after a particularly difficult week for Mr. McCain. On Friday night, new questions arose about his choice of Ms. Palin as his running mate after an investigation by the Alaska Legislature concluded that she had abused her power in trying to orchestrate the firing of her former brother-in-law, a state trooper. âI think youâre seeing a turning point,â said Saul Anuzis, the Republican chairman in Michigan, where Mr. McCain has decided to stop campaigning. âYouâre starting to feel real frustration because we are running out of time. Our message, the campaignâs message, isnât connecting.â Tommy Thompson, a Republican who is a former governor of Wisconsin, said it would be difficult for Mr. McCain to win in his state but not impossible, particularly if he campaigned in conservative Democratic parts of the state. Asked if he was happy with Mr. McCainâs campaign, Mr. Thompson replied, âNo,â and he added, âI donât know who is.â In Pennsylvania, Robert A. Gleason Jr., the state Republican chairman, said he was concerned that Mr. McCainâs increasingly aggressive tone was not working with moderate voters and women in the important southeastern part of a state that is at the top of Mr. McCainâs must-win list. âTheyâre not as susceptible to attack ads,â Mr. Gleason said. âI worry about the southeast. Obama is making inroads.â Several party leaders said Mr. McCain needed to settle on a single message in the final weeks of the campaign and warned that his changing day-to-day dialogue â a welter of evolving economic proposals, mixed with on-again-off-again attacks on Mr. Obamaâs character â was not breaking through and was actually helping Mr. Obama in his effort to portray Mr. McCain as erratic. âThe main thing he needs to do,â said Vin Weber, a former Republican congressman from Minnesota, âis focus on a single message â a single, concise or clear-cut message, and stick with that over the next 30 days, regardless of what happens. âHeâs had a lot of attack lines. But itâs time to choose.â John C. Danforth, a retired Republican senator from Missouri, said Mr. McCain should turn his attention mainly to drawing contrasts with Mr. Obama and âessentially go back to the basics.â âI donât think itâs enough to talk about earmarks incessantly,â Mr. Danforth said. âHeâs made that point. Youâve got to get beyond that and talk about the very dramatic taxes and spending in the Obama program.â Even that might not be enough, Mr. Danforth said. âThis is a year where everything that could go in Obamaâs favor is going in Obamaâs favor,â he said. âEverything that could go against McCain is against him. Itâs absolutely the worst kind of perfect storm.â Mr. McCainâs advisers said they remained confident of victory. âMy sense of where things are: John McCain beat back what was a political climate that would have snuffed out any other candidate in the Republican Party,â said Nicolle Wallace, a senior adviser. âHeâs beat back every hurdle that was ever placed in front of him.â Mr. McCain acknowledged the challenge Saturday as he campaigned in Iowa, where President Bush won narrowly in 2004 but where polls show Mr. Obama with a healthy lead. âIâd like to remind you that the political pundits have been wrong several times,â Mr. McCain said, âand theyâre wrong because we will win the state of Iowa in November.â Yet there were continued signs of confusion and turmoil in the McCain campaign, as his aides wrestled with conflicting advice, daunting poll numbers and criticism from state party leaders increasingly distressed with the way the campaign has been run. Republicans said he had been damaged by several rallies last week in which supporters shouted insults and threats about Mr. Obama, prompting Mr. McCain on Friday night to chide audience members. His aides suggested that they were trying to find a balance between attacking Mr. Obama and painting him as untested and risky without stirring unruly crowd reactions. Emotions are raw in the campaign, where Mr. McCainâs top advisers have voiced frustration at what they said was an unfair focus by the news media on the rowdy crowds. âI think there have been quite a few reporters recently,â said Mr. McCainâs closest adviser, Mark Salter, âwho have sort of implied, or made more than implications, that somehow weâre responsible for the occasional nut who shows up and yells something about Barack Obama.â The difficulties of the McCain campaign have led some Republican leaders to express concern that he could end up dragging other of the partyâs candidates down to defeat. âIf Obama is able to run up big numbers around the country,â said Mr. Anuzis, the Michigan party chairman, âthe potential for hurting down-ballot Republicans is very big.â One sign of that has emerged in Nebraska, where Representative Lee Terry, a Republican, ran a newspaper advertisement featuring words of support for him from a woman identified as an âObama-Terry voter.â In this churning environment, Mr. McCain was getting conflicting advice from party leaders about what to do. Former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, who was a rival of Mr. McCain for the Republican nomination, said Mr. McCain, who has offered scattershot proposals on the economy, should present a broad vision of how he would lead the country through the economic crisis. âIâm talking about standing above the tactical alternatives that are being considered,â Mr. Romney said, âand establish an economic vision that is able to convince the American people that he really knows how to strengthen the economy.â But no subject has more divided Republicans than the one that has been a matter of disagreement in the McCain camp: how directly to invoke Mr. Obamaâs connection to his controversial former minister, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., and William Ayers, a former member of the Weather Underground who has had a passing association with Mr. Obama over the years. In Colorado, a traditionally Republican state that Mr. McCain is struggling to keep in his column, the party chairman, Dick Wadhams, urged Mr. McCain to hit the issue hard, arguing that it was fair game and could be highly effective in raising questions about Mr. Obama in the final weeks of the campaign. He said he was surprised Mr. McCain had failed to do so in the debate last week. âI think those are legitimate insights into who Senator Obama is,â Mr. Wadhams said. âI do not think it is irrelevant to this election.â But Fergus Cullen, the Republican chairman in New Hampshire, said Saturday that he thought it would be a mistake for Mr. McCain to go down that road, warning that it would turn off moderate voters in his state who have a history of supporting Mr. McCain. âI donât think he should be giving into elements of the base who have been asking him to be going after, using Wright, using Ayers,â Mr. Cullen said. âThink about it as an undecided persuadable voter.â Although Mr. McCain has declared Mr. Wright off limits, the campaign has brought up Mr. Ayers. But the campaign appeared to step back a bit in raising that relationship Saturday. At a rally in Iowa, Mr. McCain stuck to his usual attacks on the Democratic nominee on taxes, the financial crisis and housing. For her part, Ms. Palin appeared to pull back on the sharp jabs at a fund-raiser in Philadelphia. âWe just want to make sure that in this campaign, that we uphold the standards of tolerance and truth-telling,â she said. âThere have been things said, of course, that have allowed those standards to be violated on both sides, on both tickets. We want to uphold those standards, and again itâs not mean-spirited, itâs not negative campaigning, when we call someone out on their record.â Mr. Cullen said he still thought that Mr. McCain could win his state but acknowledged it would be difficult. âThe national news has not been politically favorable for us in the last two or three weeks,â he said. âHe either has to come up with a way to make the discussion on the economy reflect better on the Republicans or change the subject to something else.â Mr. Romney referred to his own defeat at the hands of Mr. McCain in arguing that Mr. Obama should not be packing his bags for the White House quite yet. âNever count John McCain out,â he said. âWho knows? He has ground to make up. But he makes up ground in a big hurry. He did it in the primary.â Michael M. Grynbaum and Jim Rutenberg contributed reporting.