September: Make or Break for McCain
By Blake D. Dvorak
Written off as an also-ran not so long ago, John McCain turned in a performance Wednesday at the GOP debate in New Hampshire that showed there’s life in his campaign yet. The pundits noticed this as well, and McCain has enjoyed a round of congratulatory press, although the Union-Leader’s “McCain Reborn: A Comeback Begun” editorial seems a bit premature. If McCain has any hope of revitalizing his campaign - to say nothing of actually winning the nomination - he has to capitalize on this sudden good fortune and turn in an equally solid performance throughout September.
And it starts with money. The reason we haven’t seen any “Straight Talk Express” lately is because a.) there hasn’t been enough money for it; and b.) what money exists is going into the “No Surrender Tour” - an week-long trip through the primary states - and his very poignant “Courageous Service” ad showing him as a POW. First and foremost, these are fundraising efforts, designed around McCain’s military service and steadfast support of the Iraq war. They are also extremely timely.
Beginning on Sept. 11 and continuing through Sept. 17, McCain will take his “No Surrender” tour through Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. It’s no coincidence that Gen. David Petraeus will deliver his report to Congress on the surge’s progress that week. Indeed, McCain hopes to make his tour a sort of public-relations effort on behalf of Petraeus and the White House.
While the other GOP candidates will no doubt support whatever Petraeus advises, none have yet tied their fortunes so closely to the surge’s success. (Recall McCain’s chiding of Mitt Romney for using the word “apparently” to describe whether the surge was working.) It remains, however, McCain’s only shot.
McCain has also found a way to differentiate himself from the other GOP candidates. As he said at Wednesday’s debate, “Find me one quote where [the other GOP candidates] have stuck their neck out and said anything that was counter to Rumsfeld or Bush or Cheney on the war for the last five years.” This is a smart line of attack that takes into account the fact that the Republican base, while recognizing the need to win the war, also in part blames the White House for following a failed policy for so long. Moreover, McCain is pointing out that someone like Romney wouldn’t have been able to criticize the war anyway, because he doesn’t have enough military experience.
To be clear, McCain’s chances of winning the nomination remain remote no matter what kind of September he has. There’s also no guarantee that McCain’s emphasis on the war will pay off in any significant way with the Republican base. But ultimately, if McCain can’t find traction in September, when so many factors are moving in his favor, his reason for staying in the campaign all but disappears.
Blake D. Dvorak is an assistant editor at RealClearPolitics.
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