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February 26, 2007

John McCain - One Tough Opponent

I fear for the Democrats chances at taking back the White House if McCain is the Republican nominee for President.  Seeing him in person at the World Affairs Club/City Club luncheon on Friday was surprising and unnerving.  I went to listen to him speak, just to assess how he'd be against Clinton or Obama or Edwards or whomever the Democrats wind up nominating.  Dscn1023_1

The talk was pretty good and very carefully calibrated to the moderate, business-oriented World Affairs Club audience.  He opened by talking about traveling with Scoop Jackson as a naval attache decades ago.  The talk itself was focused on Washington State's position as a leader in trade with Asia, about how important free trade is and about how wise it would be for us to embrace this new world of shared dominance between Asia and the U.S.   He had comments on our relationships with all of the major Asian countries.  He slipped in a few jabs at the Clinton Administration on but it was subtle enough that I doubt many people noticed.  He walked a fine line on the recent talks with North Korea, praising the Bush Administration for their efforts but warning that we have to be very cautious.  There were many times he whooped about the triumph of freedom over tyranny.  And he ended by saying that he thought Scoop would have encouraged a similar set of positions. 

Scoop Jackson probably would have approved of McCain's positions but then, had Scoop lived today, he would likely have been a Republican, a neo-con with an environmental streak, much like McCain fancies himself to be. 

McCain's choice of topics was about as safe as could be, given the focus on foreign affairs.  It allowed him to feel and sound like a man who thinks for himself and is highly knowledgeable.  He got to look like a pragmatist who will keep us safe because he is so ferocious about national security. 

McCain is both funny and facile in the way he addresses issues and answers questions.  He is able to answer difficult questions in a way that avoids the question but does so in a manner that doesn't offend the bulk of the audience.  For example, there was one interchange in the Q&A time after his talk that received a bit of press.  I think it illustrates what we are up against.  The situation should have been difficult for him but was instead an opportunity to show his humor, his willingness to take risks, and his ability to gracefully dodge questions he does not wish to answer.

And older man stood up and said, "You've been seen in the press as sucking up to the religious right.  When are you going to suck up to what we might call the old Rockefeller side of the party?" 

After a moment for laughter, McCain said, "Well, I'm probably going to get into trouble for this but what's wrong with sucking up to everybody?"  He went on to talk about having talked with 4000 young employees at Starbucks earlier, thus making it seem as if he is "sucking up" to everybody, not particularly the religious right. 

He used a question about Tony Blair to praise Blair's courage and said, "He literally sacrificed his political career because he so firmly believed in this war in Iraq."  In the press gaggle afterwards, he compared himself to Blair, implying that he too was ready to sacrifice his political career for something he believed in. 

For McCain, as for Clinton, the trick will be winning the primary.  It is reported that the Christian Right, i.e. James Dobson, Jerry Falwell and Grover Norquist are not smitten with McCain and seem not to trust him after his remarks about the nuttiness of the right in earlier years.  Odd that. 

But here in Washington State, there were a lot of Republican leaders in attendance.  We heard a day earlier that Rob McKenna had signed on to be his co-chair in Washington State.  Ralph Munro was escorting McCain from event to event.  Luke Esser and Dave Reichert and Sam Reed were all in attendance. 

I can't imagine that McCain would ever have a serious chance to win in Washington State.  But if he emerges as the candidate of the "moderate" or more pragmatic wing of the Republican Party, as it appeared to me that he might be doing, I think he might be a formidable Republican nominee in more purple states, never mind his age and his definite conservative positions.   

I am also not pleased with the idea of the Christian Right being our firewall against McCain being the Republican nominee.  For all we know, we could be getting played on this one. 

Posted by Lynn Allen on February 26, 2007 at 08:43 AM in National and International Politics, Strategery | Permalink


Lynn - Although I've only heard excerpts from the event you attended, I'm not as worried about a McCain victory. I think he's, literally, cracking up. He's making himself into a pretzel trying to reconcile past positions with current ones, and his 100% promotion of the Iraq War doesn't get him the support of any but the diehards. The "surge" is all he's got, and it will fail. In fact, it's already failing. As long as the Dems can tie him to the disaster in Iraq, he loses. The real issue is whether or not the Dems are up to the task of playing tough. This next presidential election is ours to lose. Here are the most recent WAPO poll numbers (Feb.22):

*Who do you trust to do a better job handling (ITEM), (Bush) or (the Democrats in Congress)?

Bush Dems
a. The situation in Iraq 34 54
b. The U.S. campaign against
terrorism 39 52
c. The economy 36 56
d. The federal budget
32 59
e. Health care
25 62

McCain is Bush's boy on the war and on terrorism. If only the Dems will locate their collective spine and relentlessly spin McCain as the wrong-headed old man that he is...

I also wouldn't worry too much about WA State Republicans. They are going to support whoever their nominee is. I mean, they supported McGavick...

I've not been much of an Obama fan because I think he's still capitalizing on style over substance, but if the race were held today between Obama and McCain, Obama would win on charisma alone. I think McCain's got a whole lotta cracking up to do. Just wait for the Republican primary debates.

Posted by: shoephone | Feb 26, 2007 10:43:11 AM

Didya talk with any of the attendees? Hear any conversations on the side?

Posted by: Noemie Maxwell | Feb 26, 2007 1:59:06 PM


I think you are correct on all counts. The thing is I went in assuming all you said would mean that McCain didn't have much of a chance and we'd be lucky to have him as the nominee if that happened.

I came away thinking that McCain is far wilier than I have ever given him credit for. He is formidable and can't be underestimated and his age doesn't jump out.


As for conversations, people were generally quite receptive, which is part of why they didn't follow up and require him to respond when he slipped out of questions. Whether that means they would vote for him is another thing. As I said, I don't think Washington is at risk of voting for any Republican for President.

Posted by: Lynn | Feb 26, 2007 7:39:23 PM

Thanks for the recap and attending the event so we didn't have to!

Posted by: Daniel K | Feb 26, 2007 9:51:54 PM

Lynn, I share your fears, and not just with respect to McCain. Although I believe even "low information" voters have good instincts, Democrats are always battling the bias of the commercial media, which unduly nitpicks Dem candidates, and puffs up and excuses Republican candidates.

When big media is not doing it's job, it's all too easy to fool a lot of the people a lot of the time. Here's hoping the 110th Congress can act to restore fairness and break up consolidation of the news media.

Posted by: op99 | Feb 27, 2007 5:50:07 AM

Lynn, one of the advantages of seeing something for yourself is the ability to reach your own judgments, free of the media spin; it's unfortunate that we can't all see the candidates in person at every event, though, and have to resort to the media coverage, which has been suspect for quite some time.

I think McCain is in serious trouble, and I would be surprised to see him as still viable a year from now. As I see it, he wants to be president so much that he is willing to say anything to anyone in order to get there - even if that means that he is contradicting himself on a regular basis. At some point, if the media chooses to accurately report on his changing positions, the only "straight-shooting" he will be seen to be doing is directly into his own feet - assuming he can get them out of his mouth long enough.

If McCain is still viable next year, it will be, I'm afraid, because the media decided it wanted him in the race, which picks up on op99's point that the media sees itself too much as a player and not enough as a reporter of facts and events.

All I can say is that people have to look at as many different sources as they can to get something that resembles an accurate view of any candidate - and I think most people just will not take the time, but will allow their outlet of choice to "help" them make the decision.

Posted by: Anne | Feb 27, 2007 6:13:22 AM

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