Posted: December 28, 2007 5:41 PM
McCain Set to Ring in New Year with Revived Campaign
Whatever Sen. John McCain may have wished for this Christmas, someone in the North Pole — and apparently in New Hampshire — seems to be looking out for the Arizona Republican. McCain emerged from the Christmas campaign reprieve this week with a stronger showing both in the polls and a new volley of newspaper endorsements.
Recent polls show McCain in second place in New Hampshire and third in Iowa. Perhaps hoping to cash in on his sudden success, McCain descended upon the Hawkeye State on Wednesday, where he will campaign through the Jan. 3 caucuses. In 2000, McCain completely skipped Iowa, focusing on New Hampshire in his unsuccessful run against George W. Bush.
But beyond his own campaign, a real McCain win in the Iowa depends on the success of another GOP rival: Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas. McCain hopes the vote Thursday will go Huckabee’s way and serve as a setback for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the Republican frontrunner in New Hampshire.
Columnist Bob Novak speculates: “If Mike Huckabee holds on to actually win the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses, the road forward could be clear for McCain.”
“Mitt Romney’s lavishly financed, meticulously organized campaign always has operated with a thin margin of error based on winning Iowa and then the New Hampshire primary five days later,” Novak writes. “If Romney loses to Huckabee in Iowa, he becomes vulnerable to McCain in New Hampshire. If McCain wins there, he will be favored to sweep through subsequent primaries despite meager finances and organization.”
Never mind that McCain campaign was declared virtually dead this summer, when journalists cranked out obituaries lamenting McCain’s fundraising woes, mismanagement and staff shakeups. Now news coverage is peppered with optimistic cliches such as “McCain Momentum” and countless variations of the “Comeback Kid” — a self-imposed title former President Bill Clinton earned for coming in second in New Hampshire in 1992.
But another, perhaps more telling, indicator of McCain’s newfound success is the reaction he’s been getting from his GOP rivals — namely Romney. Looking to stabilize his shrinking poll lead in New Hampshire, the former Massachusetts governor took McCain to task on Sunday over his vote against the Bush packages of tax cuts in 2001 and 2003.
He voted against President Bush’s tax cuts, Romney said before a small crowd of New Hampshire voters last weekend. “That’s failing Reagan-101 … Reagan taught almost all of us in the Republican party that lowering taxes would grow the economy and was good for the economy and good for the individuals.”
McCain immediately punched back, via a press release: “Welcome to Mitt Romney’s bizarro world, in which everyone is guilty of his sins,” wrote McCain senior adviser Mark Salter. “He didn’t support Ronald Reagan. He didn’t support President Bush’s tax cuts. He raised taxes in Massachusetts by $700 million. He knows John McCain is gaining on him so he does what any small varmint gun totin’, civil rights marching, NRA-endorsed fantasy candidate would do: He questions someone else’s credibility. New Hampshire is on to you, Mitt. Give it a rest. It’s Christmas.”
The holiday break did little to cool down the simmering conflict. Wednesday saw the Romney campaign issue a statement entitled “Straight Talk Detour” — a take on McCain’s “Straight Talk Express” bus. The document blasted McCain for his support for a comprehensive immigration reform measure in the Senate, highlighting a 2003 quote where the senator said that “amnesty has to be an important part” of comprehensive immigration reform.
This time, the response came directly — in statement form — from McCain. “I know something about tailspins, and it’s pretty clear Mitt Romney is in one,” McCain wrote. “It’s disappointing that he would launch desperate, flailing, and false attacks in an attempt to maintain relevance. As the Union Leader said today, New Hampshire voters just aren’t buying his act, and these latest attacks won’t help him.”
On a more sobering note, the news of the assassination of former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto yesterday “sent candidates in both parties scrambling for political advantage while condemning the attack,” writes David Espo of the Associated Press.
On the stump in Iowa, McCain touted his foreign policy credentials and his experience in dealing with Pakistani leaders.
“My theme has been throughout this campaign that I’m the one with the experience, the knowledge and the judgment,” McCain said yesterday. “So perhaps it may serve to enhance those credentials to make people understand that I’ve been to Pakistan, I know Musharraf, I can pick up the phone and call him. I knew Benazir Bhutto.”