McCain has the buzz, but can he go all the way?

The big story of the week has to be John McCain's dramatic rise into the top-tier. Yes, the media is playing a big role in this surge, and it is no secret many would love to see McCain reconnect with his 2000 insurgent form. And not necessarily because they are biased in his favor, but because they want a comeback story more than anything else.

And they're getting it. It started with the endorsements of the New Hampshire Union Leader, then the Des Moines Register and the Boston Globe; then came the period in which McCain left Giuliani behind in New Hampshire polls when they were tied for second place -- and continued his rise, with one poll out yesterday showing him tied with Romney. Other polls have the margin narrowing to low single-digits. And then there is the biggest shock -- the Iowa poll that has McCain surging into a strong third place and a second one that has him even passing Romney for second.

Now, the McCain campaign is saying their online donations are up 500 percent in a single week (though it's not that shocking considering they were not raising a lot of money, so a 500% increase probably does not correspond to a jaw-dropping amount -- bu it is still evidence of some movement). And don't forget how McCain polls in general election surveys -- Democrats should be more worried about him than other Republicans at this point (though I still find it doubtful that McCain's age will not have an impact on the race).

Now, the campaign is running a new must-see ad (watch it here) about his time as a POW in Vietnam. The ad starts with video footage of a young prisoner McCain, and goes on to tell the story of one of his captors who drew a cross on the sand to let McCain celebrate Christmas. The catch (courtesy of The Carpetbagger Report) is that McCain claimed in 2004 that he was "sick and tired of re-fighting the Vietnam War" and used that to both blast the Swift Boat ads and the Kerry campaign for bringing up Vietnam in the first place. From a 2004 USA Today article:

McCain said Kerry may have opened himself to criticism by focusing on Vietnam. In his own primary campaign in 2000, McCain said, he didn't have to because everyone knew he'd been there. For Kerry, "it's clearly a tactical or strategic move" to shield him against "charges of being too liberal and soft on defense."

McCain isn't really held to the same standards as everyone else, so don't expect this to be brought up too much. And consider this: Three weeks ago, the GOP race looked like a sure two-race brawl between Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani. Now, Giuliani has lost his massive national lead and appears completely marginalized, and Romney is fighting for his survival. Meanwhile, Huckabee and McCain have a huge buzz -- and, should they split Iowa and New Hampshire, they would spent much of January fighting over Michigan and South Carolina between the two of them.

A remarkable development that underscores, if anything, just how unhappy GOP voters have always been with their candidates. And consider the irony of it all: McCain started the cycle as the very clear front-runner before his position on immigration and the past grudges of the conservative movement made him fade. And then Giuliani emerged as the front-runner, before Thompson, Romney and Huckabee looked like they would clinch it at various times. All attracted the enmity of a big part of the GOP establishment -- all were vetted, and the GOP is liking pretty much none of them. So it's now back to McCain?

Not so fast, of course. McCain is not out of the wilderness just yet. His strategy is entirely predicated on New Hampshire, and as such it is a very dangerous one. If Romney wins Iowa, he probably will clinch NH as well; and even an Iowa loss does not leave Romney out of the New Hampshire race. And more importantly, where does McCain go with a New Hampshire triumph? Can he clinch South Carolina this time around? Sounds doubtful, given the strength of Thompson and Huckabee (who presumably will have won Iowa if it comes to this). And if he doesn't, how does he go on to compete in Florida or the 02/05 states where he has no organization? It worked for Kerry in 2004 -- but Kerry got all the right breaks.

McCain is still not the front-runner for the GOP nomination. And it is mostly out of his hands at this point, since he depends on what happens to other candidates in Iowa where he is not even campaigning at all. But that he is even alive at this point is a testament to how muddied the GOP race is and has been for months.

Last note: As I have noted before the McCain resurgence could have consequences on the Democratic side and hurt Obama who needs the votes of independents in NH.



  • John McCain's chances of getting the nomination is almost as good as Rudy. I still believe that John and Rudy are trailing Mitt and Huckabee for the nomination. John is not saying anything new to help his chances--its that the other candidates are beating each other up.

    By Anonymous Southern Slav, At 21 December, 2007 21:57  

  • If John McCain wants to bring up the fact that he was held as a POW and tortured by the North Vietnamese, I think it is entirely appropriate that he do so. To be clear, I would not vote for him, but I think this argument from his is not only effective, it is fair game.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 22 December, 2007 05:05  

  • It's also fair game to point out the McCain criticized John Kerry when he pointed to his own Vietnam service in 2004. The Straight Talk Express has long since left McCain behind.

    It's also fair to point out that outside of NH, McCain has almost no organization or resources. Even a come from behind win in NH is easily spun away by his competitors, and then it's onto the south, where McCain is basically unsellable.

    McCain's Presidential bid is pretty much already dead. But seeing as him and Obama are looking to attract some of the same voters in NH, he's still politically useful to some parties involved.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 23 December, 2007 21:18  

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