By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

A huge step forward for McCain

Democratic leaders must be unhappy tonight. By designating John McCain, finally, as the frontrunner, Florida Republicans have given a huge boost to the strongest candidate who could be nominated in terms of appealing to independents and conservative Democrats. McCain’s hardcore support for the war in Iraq may be poison in November. But he’s far more likely to expand his vote beyond the Republican base than Mitt Romney.

At 71, McCain is an old-fashioned guy. He’s wearing a hideous tie (no, not the one in the photo), and he began his speech by talking to the folks in the room, not the television cameras — reminiscing about his naval training in Pensacola, introducing Gov. Charlie Crist, Sen. Mel Martinez and several members of Congress. He also hailed Rudy Giuliani, who’s likely to endorse him this week. That will be huge, as it will unite moderate Republicans around one candidate.

Now he’s giving his stump speech, aimed at solidifying his shaky support among conservatives. “I am as proud today to be a Republican conservative as I was then,” he said, repeating his frequent line of being a “foot soldier in the Reagan revolution.” Essentially it’s a list of conservative nostrums aimed at trying to unite his party, complete with a whack at judges, always popular with the red-meat crowd.

“We have a ways to go, but we’re getting close,” he said in closing. “And for that you have my profound thanks.”

Live-blogging note: When I don’t edit myself, I tend to write “huge” a lot, don’t I?

Photo (cc) by marcn. Some rights reserved.

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  1. O-FISH-L

    Dan, kudos on the up-to-the-minute blogging tonight. It certainly kept it interesting. As a Republican, I’ve had a tough time deciding on a candidate this year but, (to me anyway) the potential McCain-Giuliani ticket is one I could get behind. I’d prefer a more conservative pair, but these two will do just fine.

  2. Howard Owens

    I don’t buy the CW that McCain’s position on the war is poison.While support for the war has waned, the strong feelings of objection is not what it was a year ago. Just because most Americans now believe Iraq was a mistake, doesn’t translate into a “get out now at any cost” support for any of the Democratic candidates, per se.Being for “withdraw now” could be the poison position come November. A lot will depend on what happens between now and then, and if we’re still there, the level of fatigue with the whole thing (just just an anti-war position, per se).The one Democrat who can possibly beat McCain on the war is Clinton (who is more of a hawk than she’s campaigning right now … look for her to track more to the right on foreign policy in a general election). One possible scenario: well before November, Bush declares victory, starts the redeployment and the war is barely a blimp on the map on election day. Though that event might actually help Clinton more than McCain, since she can sell a position of being strong on defense without having a hair trigger.Interestingly, too, I think McCain the most immune to being out campaigned on personal charm by Obama. McCain is the GOP candidate Obama should fear the most.

  3. Dan Kennedy

    Howard: If we’ve learned nothing else this year, it should be this — McCain’s position on the war might be poison this November. Or it might not. But yes, the Democrats should be very scared. McCain’s unpopularity with the conservative Republican base obscures the fact that he would be the most formidable Republican general-election candidate since Reagan.

  4. Wes

    McCain is attractive to independents and many Democrats, as the “field” of Democrats is exceptionally weak. Hard to understand, as is their general laxity in Congress this past year.

  5. mike_b1

    I think too much is being made of McCain’s alleged crossover popularity. Let’s look at what’s really happened during the primaries so far:1. McCain has avoided the blowups he’s accustomed to having.2. McCain is winning despite garnering horribly weak numbers.3. Dem voters are out in much greater numbers than GOP. 4. Dems are easily outraising the GOP. 5. Will McCain’s appeal hold in a general election?6. McCain’s a fossil. His choice for VP candidate would have to be stellar, because McCain’s not going to live through the Inauguration.And the questions:1. Can McCain continue to avoid throwing a nutty? I’m betting no.2. What happens when the Dems go crazy on the indisputable fact that this was the wrong war at the wrong time — and McCain was for it all along? (Yes, I know this is an issue for Clinton, but her team knows how to Swift Boat a candidate: You go on the attach first, to set the agenda and put the subject on the defensive, then keep hammering it home. It takes the press maybe two weeks to tire of setting the record straight, and they move on to other things, leaving you free to continue, well, lying.)3. Can the GOP win with what is clearly an unmotivated base?4. Can the GOP overcome the stunning discrepancy in fundraising?5. McCain has won Senate campaigns in a state filled with elderly who remember things like the Korean and Vietnam Wars. And he pulled in some independent votes in a state (NH) that has more registered independents than either Dems or GOP. But primaries are full of indys who pull levers against a candidate vs. for one (I do that all the time myself). And how do we know he can pull the indy vote in an election where every vote counts?6. Will McCain still be breathing come January, and how much of an issue will the Dems (or their PACs) make of this?

  6. Esther

    A McCain-Obama matchup would be very interesting, just in terms of the generational divide between the two. While the war is obviously unpopular, it doesn’t touch the average American on a day-to-day basis. I don’t think people care enough to make it their sole issue, or even the major issue. And I don’t mean to sound crass or uncaring – I think John McCain is a hero. But while I think people respect McCain for having been a prisoner of war, I’m not sure whether it’ll mean anything in the election. I’m not sure how much the campaign will hinge on the economy, or the more vague issues, like hope, inspiration, future versus the past, etc.When you go to the McCain web site, you see a giant picture of McCain, and a smaller one of him as a pilot. (Which just makes him seem old today).When you go to the Obama web site, you see the candidate and his young, attractive family.I don’t know if you ever watched the tv series “Mad Men,” but in the episode on the Kennedy/Nixon election, they showed ads for each candidate. Obama’s web page is a lot like the Kennedy ad – young, attractive family. Nixon’s ad was Nixon sitting on a desk in a book-filled room droning on about some issue.Frankly, I still have my doubts that Obama or Clinton could beat a Republican candidate – for too many Americans, there’s just too much race, gender, personal baggage. It would be interesting – the oldest candidate versus the youngest candidate. When it comes to the truly open-minded undecided voter, I just wonder if that will carry the day.

  7. Sean Roche

    I’ll second mike_b1 and take it a few steps further.The reason that pundits think that McCain will be a formidable candidate is … that pundits think that McCain will be a formidable candidate. Folks like Dan keep uncritically repeating the bromide that McCain will attract independents and Democrats.Just this week, McCain promised to let Sam Brownback advise him on judicial nominees. Savor that one for a while. Let it roll around in your mouth before you swallow it. McCain has a zero percent rating with NARAL. This is not a guy who’s a crypto-liberal just waiting to show his true colors until he doesn’t have to kow-tow to the Republican base. He’s a rock-ribbed conservative.McCain is the biggest cheerleader for the Iraq War who doesn’t draw a paycheck form the American Enterprise Institute. Last time I checked, there weren’t a whole lot of independents and Democrats just waiting for a candidate who’s going to promise more foreign conflicts.McCain is also a staunch member of the nutty brotherhood of the tax cutters. And, straight talk? When members of the media get over their infatuation with McCain from the 2000 campaign and do some clear-eyed analysis, they are going to find a candidate not just willing to pander, but seemingly unable not to.Yeah, count me as one Democrat who is completely unfazed by McCain. He’s got a good shtick for resisting assaults from the right, but he’s going to get croaked when the brickbats come flying from the left.Bring it on!

  8. Rick in Duxbury

    ” McCain’s not going to live through the Inauguration.””Will McCain still be breathing come January..?”I hope this is just wishful thinking by a few “progressives” and not an indication of how far the discourse has devolved. Yes, this makes the VP choice that much more crucial but desperate times call for thinking out of the box. Also, those little guys in Hanoi discovered that McCain appears to require a lot of killing, so don’t get your hopes up, Mike. McCain appears to come from sturdy stock. (If you don’t believe me, you can ask his mother!)

  9. Dan Kennedy

    Rick: I agree that McCain seems to be made of sturdy stuff. But in addition to being 71, he’s also had serious issues with melanoma. I think this is going to have an enormous effect on what kind of running mate he chooses. He’s not going to be able to go with the obscure right-winger to appease the base. He’s going to have to pick a president. This morning I heard Tom Finneran propose Colin Powell — a brilliant suggestion, although I suppose we should look into whether Finneran’s doing any paid lobbying for him.

  10. Sean Roche

    Colin Powell would make a perfect complement to John McCain. Two veterans of the armed services with sparkling reputations in the MSM despite some serious shortcomings.

  11. mike_b1

    Problem with Colin Powell is he has never run for elected office and can’t guarantee any states. (What would have been fun about Romney getting the nomination would be to see Mass. and Mich. turn blue on Election Night.) Since WW2, few presidential elections have been routs; when neither candidate is the incumbent, it’s downright rare. McCain will have to pick a guy — yes, a guy; you really think the GOP would do otherwise? — who can guarantee him a contested state. Like, say, Florida.

  12. O-FISH-L

    Rick, bravo on your comments, particularly your first sentence condemning the unfortunate remarks about Sen. McCain’s longevity.Personally, I’d love to see McCain pick former U.S. Rep J.C. Watts [R-OK], a young, articulate person of color, former athlete, associate pastor in his church and a person who can rally conservatives based not only on his record but this: (taken from wikipedia): “Watts stirred controversy when he chastised some black Democrats and civil rights leaders as ‘race-hustling poverty pimps’, whose careers he said depend on keeping blacks dependent on the government. He was the first black member of Congress not to join the Congressional Black Caucus.”If Obama is part of the Democrat ticket, Watts instantly neutralizes him and challenges him to publicly abandon the politics of Jackson, Sharpton, Farrakahn et al. Talk about a candidate for change! While Obama gets the comparisons to JFK, Watts is no slouch himself. He’s a hell of a speaker and charismatic too. In an instant, Watts would become the most promising black Republican since Dr. King.Although Watts would surely be branded as an “Uncle Tom” and unworthy of black support by the “progressives”, such criticism would be fraught with peril. After all, Watts would have the distinction of being the only black candidate in the race. Obama is only partially black, or as he clarified in his autobiography, — “[My father] was black as pitch, my mother white as milk. For the 90% of black voters who are usually guaranteed to vote Democrat, and for the Caucasians suffering from “white-guilt” who are fawning over Obama due to his being part black, Watts offers the real thing. If nothing else, Watts on the ballot would force them to thoroughly examine their collective conscience, not to mention give the media fits!

  13. Bill Baar

    When Dick Durbin comes out endorsing the Army’s PAO during Abu Garib as the candidate for Illinois’s 6th Cong District, I’d say Democrats at a high level are rethinking Iraq as an issue.

  14. mike_b1

    Hehe, I would LOVE to see JC Watts on the GOP ticket. What a godsend for the Democrats that would be. McCain would spend his whole campaign defending Watts’ tax liens, campaign finance issues, siblings arrested for serious crimes, and so on…Not to mention last May when Watts, speaking on CNN, compared Giuliani’s position on abortion to slavery: “That’s the same as saying, ‘I’m personally opposed to slavery, but if somebody else wants to own slaves, it’s OK.’ ” That would be sure to win over blacks and independents.Good choice. Good choice.

  15. Patricia of Trakai

    Given how feisty McCain’s mother is at 95, I’m not going to hold my breath over McCain’s health issues.From what I saw/heard in a CNN interview with McCain one morning, I can already see his strategy against Hillary: paint her as the candidate of “surrender.” He used the S-word SO much.Be afraid, fellow liberals. Be very afraid.

  16. mike_b1

    No one can accuse the Democrats of being warmongers. I think, particularly with a recession on the way (the second one in 8 years of GOP reign, following none in 8 Clinton years), Clinton or Obama could rightfully point out that 1. McCain is just an extension of the neocons — a guy who in many ways is still a prisoner of war and who never learned that the US has no business fighting regional conflicts — and 2. the US doesn’t have $80b a year to throw away on Iraq when the citizens at home are hurting.Come November, if the unemployment rate is moving up, a return to a focus on the US will look like pretty darn good common sense.It’s the economy, stupid.

  17. mike_b1

    Btw, McCain’s father died at 70, and that’s at least as relevant as his mother’s longevity.

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