Assessing the 2008 Hopefuls: Part I

In this continuing segment, I will assess the strengths and weaknesses of some of those likely to be 2008 presidential candidates. I'll also let you know what I personally think of each candidate from my perspective as a left-leaning moderate voter.

John McCain

The rundown: Since losing the 2000 race for the Republican nomination, in what many view as a bitter and dirty campaign, Arizona Senator John McCain has risen in the ranks to become one of the most powerful members of Congress. He is known in Washington and the media for being a strong conservative who is nonetheless willing to compromise with the other party. Along with Russ Feingold, he introduced campaign finance reform legislation, angering some conservatives. He was also part of the "Gang of 14," a group of 7 Democratic and 7 Republican senators who struck a deal on the filibustering of Bush appointees. Hawkish on Iraq and the war on terror, he has been critical of the administration's handling of the invasion but believes more troops are currently needed to stabilize Baghdad. On social issues such as abortion, McCain is solidly conservative.

Chances with Republican voters: 8/10. Two years ago, McCain's chances to win over the religious base of the Republican electorate appeared slim. In 2000, McCain delivered a blistering speech in which he famously called Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell "agents of intolerance" who distorted his record because he didn't "pander to them." Though this won him respect among moderates who wouldn't otherwise support him but were uncomfortable with Falwell and Robertson's brand of faith, the Senator has since reconciled with Falwell. He has also been emphasizing his pro-life, pro-family credentials. While there are undoubtedly Republicans who find McCain too much of a rogue and too critical of the GOP to support him, he appears at this point to be the frontrunner for the nomination.

Chances with the general electorate: 7/10. McCain consistantly does well in hypothetical horse race polls, especially when all voters are surveyed. In the post 9/11 world, he is viewed as serious about terrorism and strong on defense. And while many of his colleagues have been hurt by their support for the increasingly unpopular Iraq war, McCain has managed to maintain an image of both skepticism and strength. Voters appreciate his criticism of the handling of the war and it appears they are weighing this more heavily than his continued calls for more troops. It's possible, though, that the Senator's hawkishness may come back to haunt him, especially if the Baker commission's much anticipated report finds that a withdrawal is the best policy. The 2006 midterms hurt McCain's chances as a down-the-line conservative, as that election seemed to be a victory for moderation and restraint. Nonetheless, after 8 years of the Bush administration, many voters will support the man who is seen as honest and competent, traits McCain has worked hard to portray.

Would I support him?: Very Unlikely. In my mind, the most attractive thing about John McCain was his willingness to say exactly what was on his mind (remember the "straight-talk express?") despite the political unpopularity of it. As a Republican, lambasting the powerful religious right was a move of great bravery. He was right and I believe he still knows that he was. In his quest to win support for the 2008 primaries, he has run to the right, embracing all that he was once skeptical of. Furthermore, I believe the media depiction of McCain as an independent-minded conservative is lazy and misleading journalism. Saying that more troops should have been sent into Iraq from the beginning is by no means outside the establishment; it's popular opinion. If nothing else, McCain would probably run a much more competent administration than his predecessor. But he can no longer guarantee that it would be an honest one.

1 comment:

prp said...

It's strange, but you should probably have reversed those odds. Latest polls show Johnny fairing better in the general than in the primary, where Giuliani is somehow taking the prize again and again.

Probably due mainly to the sheer number of names being given to the public . . . My guess is the majority of Romney, Frist, and Gingrich supporters would take McCain over Giuliani. Much of Rice's camp, too, although the fact that she's a black female might mean that she has the backing of slightly more, uh, "cosmopolitan" Republicans.

No matter how you cut it, though, it's gonna be a tough and bloody race.

Most interesting hypothetical race: McCain/Giulian vs. Clinton/Obama.

Or imagine Clinton/Gore? Haha! Unlikely, seeing as how he can't even break 15% among likely Democratic primary voters, but even so . . .