ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
As for the McCain campaign, NPR's Scott Horsley reports that the Republican candidate's standing dropped with the Dow Jones industrial average.
SCOTT HORSLEY: John McCain always faced long odds in this election, but senior adviser Steve Schmidt says he still might have won were it not for the near collapse of the global financial system.
Mr. STEVE SCHMIDT (Senior Adviser, McCain Presidential Campaign): John McCain, I believe, is the only Republican that could have hung in there in this race, kept it close, competitive. In the middle of September, we were ahead. The financial collapse put us behind.
HORSLEY: But whatever advantage the meltdown gave to the Democrats, McCain's handling of the situation made it worse. When a financial bailout bill was in trouble six weeks ago, McCain abruptly called a news conference and took a gamble.
Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona): Tomorrow morning, I'll suspend my campaign and return to Washington after speaking at the Clinton Global initiative.
HORSLEY: It was a grand gesture, meant to showcase McCain's selfless leadership.
Senator MCCAIN: We must meet as Americans, not as Democrats or Republicans. And we must meet until this crisis is resolved.
HORSLEY: But once he got to Washington, it soon became clear that McCain had no real plan to fix the bailout package and no real pull with House Republicans to get it passed. Instead of looking presidential and reassuring, McCain looked desperate and alarming, a stark contrast to Barack Obama.
Having raised the stakes, McCain lost the bet. Even before the crisis hit, McCain was challenged by Americans' deepening concern over their pocketbooks. After all, for much of the last two years, McCain said he was running for president because he wanted to combat Islamic terrorism.
Senator MCCAIN: Any president who does not regard this threat as transcending all others does not deserve to sit in the White House.
HORSLEY: Once the economy transcended terrorism in voters' minds, McCain found himself far less prepared. His faith in tax cuts as the lone engine of job creation sounded too much like the Bush playbook of the past eight years.
He also seemed torn by a split personality, a Ronald Reagan advocate for limited government one day, a populist, Teddy Roosevelt-style activist the next. No one could doubt McCain's fighting spirit, but neither could anyone know where his next punch might land. If suspending his campaign was one big roll of the dice, McCain's choice of Sarah Palin, as his running mate, was an even bigger one.
Senator MCCAIN: She's not from these parts, and she's not from Washington.
(Soundbite of applause)
Senator MCCAIN: And when you get to know her, you're going to be as impressed as I am.
HORSLEY: When they got to know Palin, millions of Americans were impressed, especially social conservatives, who adopted her as their champion. But others got the impression she was not ready, and that undermined McCain's experience argument against Obama. It also called into question his promise to put country ahead of political calculation. Last night, McCain called Palin an impressive new voice in the Republican Party and said he'd leave any second-guessing about his campaign to others.
Senator MCCAIN: Every candidate makes mistakes, and I'm sure I made my share of them. But I won't spend a moment of the future regretting what might have been.
HORSLEY: McCain has long thought of himself as lucky. He survived plane crashes, fire at sea, and years in a POW camp. His political career was also blessed by good timing and fortunate match-ups. But his political fortunes could not survive this year's Democratic tidal wave that washed over the country.
McCain often said he was running to inspire a generation of young people to serve a cause greater than their own self-interest. This year, many Americans were ready for such inspiration. But more found it in McCain's opponent. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Phoenix.