Is A McCain Comeback Still Possible?
I know that I say this after every debate of the GOP field, but the reaction of the Granite State crowd surveyed by Frank Luntz was compelling. As seen post-debate on Fox News, a room full of New Hampshire Republicans began the night with nary a McCainiac in their ranks, and ended the night stopping just short of collectively shouting, “Go, John, Go!” The same crowd, incidentally, expressed much disappointment with national frontrunner Rudy Giuliani. What gives?
This development may be less mysterious than it initially seems. Rudy has a knack for disappointing debate performances in a multi-candidate field, probably because his good-humored persona doesn’t dominate the room. Rudy’s more like a wry New Yorker, grinning and thinking of the next one-liner when a question is posed to him. This would probably be highly effective in a two-person debate, but not when every single-digit type is pounding their fist and puffing out their chest, trying to look presidential. Further, McCain is far more conservative than most conservatives give the man credit for, and upon hearing his actual views, and not the views that many Republicans have grafted onto him ever since the South Carolina primary in 2000, it is understandable that conservatives would be willing to give the man a second look. And while this may seem obvious to political junkies like us, folks who don’t spend every waking second refreshing R4′08, i.e., the bulk of Americans, still have an
unrealistic caricature of McCain embedded in their political psyche that will only be removed with greater exposure to the actual Arizona senator. But McCain is almost bankrupt, and without a functioning campaign, it’s difficult to see how he hangs on until most voters start paying attention this winter.
If McCain does decide to go for broke and hope that disaffected conservatives will return to the real McCain at the eleventh hour, here’s what he should do. First, McCain should spend the next four months visiting every nook and cranny of New Hampshire, a northern state that is more secular than religious, more Roman Catholic and Mainline Protestant than Evangelical, more fiscally conservative than not, and that has an affinity for mavericks of all stripes. If McCain can reintroduce himself to New Hampshire voters in a favorable light, he has a chance of scoring a major upset in the nation’s first primary. That will mean that after New Hampshire, Romney, the likely winner of Iowa, and McCain would each have a contest under their respective belts, while Rudy and Thompson would have no such victories. McCain’s next step would be to win Michigan, a Midwestern state that responds well to Republicans like McCain, with his understated cultural conservatism and domestic pragmatism. A one-two-punch against the rest of the field in New Hampshire and Michigan could do major damage to one or more of the frontrunners. Romney will probably snag LDS-heavy Wyoming and Nevada, but if McCain can build up enough momentum, he may be able to win South Carolina, the supposed Thompson firewall, or Florida, Rudy’s firewall. That could propel McCain into Super Duper Tuesday, where he could do very well in states like California and Illinois. And all this from a man who is politically as good as dead.
What we politicos have to remember is that the average voter remains disengaged in this race. Romney is still the guy that looks like Ward Cleaver. Rudy is still America’s Mayor. McCain is still a Democrat with an “R” next to his name. And so on. Those perceptions won’t change until the bulk of America starts paying attention. As Frank Luntz demonstrated tonight, when voters do tune in, preconceived notions can change overnight. That gives McCain one more reason to stay in the game for at least a little while longer.
by DaveG @ 11:02 pm. Filed under John McCain
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