And meanwhile, John McCain tours and addresses those 100 years

While he is trying to force her out of the race and while she is trying to find a way to move superdelegates, John McCain launched his (re)introductory tour this week, seeking to educate voters about McCain's story life. As the campaign sees it, this is a tour of the places that have mattered in McCain's life to remind voters (or is it New Hampshire independents) what they have liked about the man. Yesterday, McCain was in Meridian, Mississippi where he had flown an air carried; today, he visited his high school; tomorrow, it's on to the Naval Academy.

McCain's tour exemplifies both the benefits and the drawbacks of the long Democratic primary. On the one hand, McCain can organize his own re-introduction to voters and does not have to worry about the Democratic nominee burying him under advertisements and blasting him before he has the money to respond. He can calmly go around the country advancing his political message, almost in a vacuum.

On the other hand, McCain cannot hope to get much coverage from this given how much media time Clinton and Obama are enjoying (and how much time the media has to devote to politics in the first place). McCain can go around the country all he wants, but it will not do him that much good if he cannot get his message out.

One goal of McCain's early campaigning is to push back on the controversy generated by the candidate's 100 years in Iraq comment. That quote has already become the 2008 version of John Kerry's "I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it." To prevent it from being as damaging as Kerry's was, Republicans have developed an aggressive strategy. They contend that McCain is being taken out of context and that his statement had a very clear meaning that most people would agree on: that US soldiers could stay in Iraq as part of a peace keeping force just as they did in South Korea.

The Democratic version of McCain's quote, of course, attributes to it much more hawkish connotations. Both sides want to win this early argument, which explains why debates around this question have been so heated already! The problem for McCain is that he might already have lost this argument. The nuance he is trying to introduce into the quote is not the kind of response that is effective in modern politics, just as Kerry was never able to convince anyone of the legitimacy of his $87 billion quote (that he was referring to two different votes on two bills that had different provisions... a clear explanation that was drowned among Republican noise).

Whatever the merits of Kerry's statement, it came to exemplify the flip-flopping character Republicans shaped; and Democrats are doing everything they can to make McCain's quote stand as a symbol of his aggressive hawkishness. But Obama might have done a big favor to McCain yesterday: In responding to questions about the 100 years quote, Obama acknowledged that McCain could have been referring to a peacetime commitment rather than a 100 years war. A triumphant RNC immediately blasted out a release claiming that their candidate had been vindicated:

With Barack Obama finally acknowledging today John McCain does not support a 100-year war in Iraq, we expect that he will answer his own calls for a more honest debate and stop playing crude politics with such an important issue.

The McCain campaign knows fully well, however, that this is not the type of story that goes away easily; it's already penetrating in public culture. If Edwards could never get rid of that $400 haircut, McCain won't be able to take back his 100 years quote. And that's precisely why they are so worried about it and aggressive in countering in it.



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