Saturday, April 07, 2007

Political Death Watch

Waiting for John McCain's candidacy to die:

In short order, John McCain has gone from Republican presidential front-runner to political death watch. On Wednesday, the Arizona senator kicks off a month of high-profile events, seeking a resurrection of sorts.

He badly needs it. Mr. McCain just reported raising $12.5 million for the first-quarter -- behind Republican rivals Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani, as well as Democrats Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards. Most analysts won't go so far as to bury Mr. McCain, citing his Republican rivals' own baggage: Both Mr. Romney and Mr. Giuliani are suspect among social conservatives for their records supporting abortion and gay rights, and gun control. But the one-time GOP front-runner clearly had a very bad week.

It began with reports of the heavily guarded senator shopping at a Baghdad market and declaring "things are better," and it ended with a New Hampshire poll showing Mr. McCain, the longtime leader in that first-primary state, now in a dead heat with Mr. Romney. Sandwiched in between were the stories of his money woes.

So how does McCain plan to revitalize his presidential campaign? By doubling down on the Iraq, of course:

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) will launch a high-profile effort next week to convince Americans that the Iraq war is winnable, embracing the unpopular conflict with renewed vigor as he attempts to reignite his stalling bid for the presidency.

With the Virginia Military Institute as a backdrop, McCain plans to argue in a speech on Wednesday that victory in Iraq is essential to American security and that President Bush's war machine is finally getting on track after four years, aides and advisers said.

But given all McCain's recent misteps, the Straight Talk Express is pretty much finished:

As the country has turned against the war -- 64 percent of respondents in the most recent Washington Post-ABC News poll said it was not worth fighting -- McCain's repeated echoes of the president's rhetoric haunt his presidential campaign. His upbeat assessment of conditions in a Baghdad marketplace last week drew criticism from Iraqis there and from some journalists.

Wearing a bulletproof vest and surrounded by 100 soldiers in Baghdad's central market, McCain said: "Never have I been able to go out into the city as I was today." Headlines soon after called his statements "propaganda" and a "magic-carpet ride." The Statesman Journal in Salem, Ore., declared: "Brainwashed McCain is a straight-talker no more."

One GOP consultant said of the incident: "That strikes right at the heart of who people thought he was -- a truth teller."

Is McCain completely out of the race? As the above articles make clear, given the weaknesses of the other candidates, no.

But watching the way McCain has taken his credibility and support among independents the last few years and squandered them by signing on to the Bush administration's conduct of the war, sucking up to the religious right (who won't support him anyway), and uttering Cheneyesque "Last Throes" type comments about the state of Iraq, you'd have to say that McCain's campaign ought to be a textbook example for future Political Science 101 classes in how NOT to make a second run at the presidency.

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