The Washington Times - November 4, 2008, 09:26PM

PHOENIX — The message arrived at 6:41 Mountain Time from the McCain campaign:

“POOL NEEDS TO GATHER NOW at the Arizona Biltmore Ballroom.”


The “pool” is the small group from the media — the wires, the photgraphers, the TV crew, a print reporter and a radio journalist — who accompany Sen. John McCain on every single movement by the Republican presidential nominee.

There is no word yet on when the Arizona senator will arrive here at the luxurious Arizona Biltmore Hotel and Spa, dubbed “McCain-Palin Victory 2008.” Hundreds of revelers have packed the ballroom, surrounded by what appear to be many more hundreds of reporters from around the world. Aides say he is expected to slip upstair into a suite to await further returns.

The scene is not yet funereal, but — like the nation’s move toward Sen. Barack Obama — it is trending that way. There was a loud groan and shouts of “No!” as Fox News called Pennsylvania for the Democrat shortly before 7 p.m. local time.

More reports emerged about the mood of top McCain advisers aboard the Straight Talk Express as the senator returned from his final campaign rally.

Steve Schmidt, who oversaw much of the campaign’s strategy, was circumspect. “I think we did our absolute best in this campaign in really difficult circumstances, we had a — we had some tough cards to play all the way through, and we hung in there all the way.”

He said the finincial crisis was a serious setback for the Republican. “You look back in the middle of September — economic collapse of the country, a number of different things — we did the best we can in historically difficult circumstances from a political climate. It is highly doubtful that anyone will ever have to run in a worse political climate than the one John McCain had to run in this year.”

But he said Mr. McCain is not to blame for performing poorly. “I don’t think there’s another Republican the party could have nominated that could have made this a competitive race the way that John McCain did.”

Mr. Schmidt also laid blame at the doorstep of President Bush.

“The president’s approval numbers, you know, were not helpful in the race, but the party as a whole is unpopular with the American people, and that was a big albatross.”

In an odd Election Day occurrance, the Straight Talk Express plane aborted its landing seconds before touchdown in Albuquerque, N.M., because a C-130 military aircraft was slow in exiting the runway, the Federal Aviation Administration said.

— Joseph Curl, senior White House correspondent, The Washington Times