Tuesday, January 15, 2008

McCain in Michigan: Is There a Push-Back?

Yesterday's Washington Post noted a substantial push-back by conservatives against GOP frontrunner John McCain.

It remains to be seen how right-wing opposition to McCain influences the race. But according to Jonathan Martin over at The Politico, the conservative fire is more heat than light, and McCain's facing little opposition within the overall Republican coalition, in Michigan at least:

His opponents aren’t going after him. There isn’t a single third-party group hammering him in broadcast TV or radio ads. Even anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, a longtime adversary, is taking it easy on John McCain this time around.

In short, McCain is getting a free pass, and it’s beginning to show. In campaign events across western Michigan, voters are once again being reminded of the qualities of character that have made him an admired figure on the national political scene, without the distraction of ads designed to muddy that image.

Asked why she likes McCain, Tina Wolfis of Kalamazoo pointed to “his honesty, his straight-forwardness.”

Other voters, Republicans all, cited similar qualities. Pressed about issues, some mentioned federal spending or the war.

“He puts country ahead of politics,” added David Hassenger, a Republican official in St. Joseph County, just south of Kalamazoo. “[Republicans] deserved to have their asses kicked in the last election. ... We’ve forgotten what we were supposed to be doing there.”

Even those who mentioned immigration — or “the illegal aliens,” as Wolfis put it — seemed unaware that McCain was an outspoken Republican advocate for providing illegal immigrants with a pathway to citizenship last spring.

Sharon Hoogendoorn, who works at Hope College in Holland, Mich., where McCain also had a town hall meeting Monday, said she was a border hawk and felt strongly about the issue. Asked how that squared with McCain’s stance on immigration, Hoogendoorn, who is leaning toward the Arizona senator, said, “I think that’s how he feels — we didn’t bridge that issue today. But I’m pretty sure that’s how he feels, as well.”

As McCain campaigns through western Michigan ahead of tomorrow’s primary, it’s abundantly clear that he’s running a race in stark contrast to the 2000 election, when the conservative establishment united against the maverick senator and went after him in full force after his New Hampshire victory.

McCain’s support appears less tied to any one particular issue than to his well-cultivated, straight-talking persona — one that is unsullied this year as opponents such as Mike Huckabee, Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson express their own admiration or friendship for McCain rather than a desire to defeat him. And the lack of negative messaging has led to widespread unfamiliarity with McCain’s position on illegal immigration. Mitt Romney, for his part, is broadcasting only spots about his own record here after seeing what a barrage of negative ads got him in the first two states.

The Republican candidates aren’t the only ones treating McCain with kid gloves. Norquist, who helped spearhead third-party anti-McCain efforts in 2000, has overseen just a single round of little-noticed phone calls into New Hampshire urging voters to call both McCain and Thompson and urge them to sign the no-tax-increase pledge. He said his group has no plans to do any further calls.Norquist’s approach this year is indicative that McCain is in a stronger position this time around. By Norquist’s reckoning, he has come around on some key issues, while others don’t have the resonance they once did.

“In 2000, we criticized McCain’s call for campaign finance reform,” Norquist noted in an e-mail message. “The whole movement was concerned with that issue — the NRA, Right to Life, Right to Work, American Conservative Union, most business groups.

“Today, McCain is calling for continuing the Bush tax cuts — that is leading with a $2 trillion tax cut,” Norquist added.

So instead of trying to defeat McCain, Norquist has simply declared victory and welcomed him as a convert to the cause.

It may be that McCain's already appearing the most electable Republican to party insiders and voters looking for experience and intgrity on foreign policy.

There's been a backlash in some quarters, of course.

Mark Levin at National Review pulled out the knives in an attack on McCain last week. Bloggers are seeing red over the maverick's New Hampshire resurrection (here and here, for example).

The Michigan results today will sort things out a bit. May the best man win!

Photo Credit: Los Angeles Times


UPDATE: Captain Ed predicts a Romney victory in today's primary:

I predict that the crossover vote will not be as heavy as predicted, discouraged in part by lousy weather. Three inches of snow wouldn't keep motivated voters from reaching the polls, but I don't think that the Republican slate will motivate non-Republicans to turn out in force while it's dark, snowy, and miserable on the roads. That favors Mitt Romney, and I think he edges out John McCain for his first significant win. My full prediction:

Romney - 30%
McCain - 28%
Huckabee - 17%
Giuliani - 12%
Thompson - 6%
Paul - 4%

I got New Hampshire wrong on the Democrats, but I had plenty of company. Let's see how this turns out ....

I frankly haven't the slightest clue as to who's going to win. Captain Ed doesn't mention other variables beyond the weather.

Romney has bankrolled a huge ad buy in Michigan, spending almost three times the amounts of McCain and Huckabee. Moreover, Romney's upbeat message on the economy is extremely attractive to voters, with Michigan suffering a "one-state" recession that could be a prelude to greater economic troubles nationally.

I think these two points give Romney an edge, although the campaign on the ground may end up being more vigorous than Captain Ed acknowledges.

I'll have more tonight.