Tuesday, November 6, 2007

McCain Standing Firm in GOP Nomination Race

E. J. Dionne notes that John McCain's still standing in the GOP nomination race:

The strangest thing about John McCain's campaign for president is that it's supposed to be dead, but it isn't. This is a real nuisance for his competitors.

The comeback is not showy or dramatic. And it's true that while McCain is better off than he was in July, when his campaign imploded in a dazzling display of financial mismanagement and staff recriminations, he still faces a more difficult route to the GOP nomination than his well-financed rivals, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney.

McCain himself, the overwhelming Republican favorite a year ago, is cheerfully humble in characterizing his standing. "We've got a long way to go, but we are in the mix," he said Sunday on CNN's "Late Edition." In the mix is a big improvement over being out.

Nationally, McCain got a boost over the weekend when a new Post-ABC News poll showed him in second place to Giuliani. The former New York mayor had 33 percent; McCain, 19 percent; and the stalled Fred Thompson16 percent. Romney, who leads in both Iowa and New Hampshire, came in at 11 percent, and Mike Huckabee had 9 percent.

The most interesting numbers are those of Huckabee and McCain. The former is finally being taken seriously not only by the media but also by Republican voters. McCain rose from just 12 percent a month ago.

Thompson's sluggishness has been a form of life-support for McCain. Nowhere more so than in New Hampshire, which McCain took by storm seven years ago against George W. Bush. This state's early primary only recently looked to be Romney's launching pad to national stardom -- or Giuliani's opportunity to finish off Romney. Now Romney and Giuliani have to calculate how McCain might figure in their plans.

The mood of McCain's loyalists here combines relief with the restrained glee that comes from walking away from a car wreck in one piece. Jim Barnett, the candidate's New Hampshire state director, traces McCain's local comeback to his strong debate performance in early September and his renewed emphasis on the freewheeling town-meeting formats that made him so many friends in this state.

Barnett points to a moment during a mid-October gathering in Hopkinton where McCain confronted a questioner who spoke of the "anger the average European Christian, native-born American feels when they see their country turning into a multicultural chaos Tower of Babel."

McCain has tried to appease conservative critics of his support for a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants by stressing the need to secure the nation's borders first. His new stance, he says, reflects "a lesson learned about what the American people's priorities are."

But at the Hopkinton meeting, McCain was his old, combative self. He condemned his interlocutor's language and declared that he was "grateful to live in a nation that has been enriched by people coming to our nation from around the world." The applause, Barnett recalls with pride, "went on for a long time."

Yet there is also cold calculation on the part of Republicans who are giving McCain a second look. Their challenge is to find a candidate who can broaden the party's currently anemic appeal while still holding it together.
As I've said before, "McCain Deserves a Second Look."

I would be surprised, though, if he's able to overtake the party's frontrunners in the weeks remaining before January's caucuses and primaries. Perhaps Mitt Romney's peaked in New Hampshire, where he's currently holding
a decisive lead in the polls. If so, McCain might stage a reprise of his 2000 primary upset in the Granite State. There's also Rudy Giuliani to consider. Currently a national frontrunner, Giulani's not well-respected in Iowa and he's just recently begun to invest major resources to the New Hampshire race.

A win or place in New Hampshire could help McCain replenish his war chest and bolster his campaign heading into Super Tuesday, February 5, 2008 , when over a dozen states will hold their nominating contests.

Go McCain!