Much has changed since Steve Schmidt was beamed in from Planet Rove to take over John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMeghan McCain calls Russian attacks against her father the 'highest compliment' to her family Arizona Dems hope higher Latino turnout will help turn the state blue McConnell: GOP could try to repeal ObamaCare again after midterms MORE's disorganized and often dysfunctional campaign. Polls are tightening and McCain is edging Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaRepublicans bail on Coffman to invest in Miami seat Five takeaways from the first North Dakota Senate debate Live coverage: Heitkamp faces Cramer in high-stakes North Dakota debate MORE nationally and in key battleground states. As flattened as he appeared while Obama toured Europe in July, McCain has been in the driver's seat ever since, and the numbers show it.

The Schmidt recipe for success includes tight discipline and message control but also some bold and risky moves. The Britney Spears/Paris Hilton bimbo ads denigrating Obama's celebrity started it all. While we all called it petty — and it was — the base loved it. The "just who does he think he is" message resonated with voters resistant to or outright opposing Obama. Polls show these key voters coming home again after months of stagnation. Making a big ad buy during the Olympics, to air negative ads, was also a bold move the former McCain campaign may not have made. Risky again, and we will see if those paid off.

McCain's gamble on a pro-choice running mate is the boldest move, and one I would have expected his campaign manager to talk him out of. But these past days McCain has been calling around to Republicans across the country to see if a pro-life mutiny would take place if he chose Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) or former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge. They are clearly the men McCain likes the best and would like best to serve with, but such a move would constitute a significant gamble — appeal to independents and risk depressing the social conservatives who will need to push McCain over the top to win.

Finally, we now know McCain will announce his running mate next Friday, Aug. 29, right at the conclusion of the Democratic National Convention. The move is designed to steal the thunder from Obama and to deflate the bounce he is expected to enjoy following his formal nomination and convention. The McCain campaign announced that his announcement will come in Ohio at a 10,000-person rally. Wow, that many people? Sounds strangely Barackian. Bold indeed. But the boldest part of all — it will be McCain's 72nd birthday.