Monday, April 28, 2008

McCain's Still Stuck in a Primary Campaign

Much has been made of the possible damage that the ongoing intraparty slugfest has or has not done to the Democratic Party in general and the candidates in particular. That debate rages on, endlessly -- apropos given the topic. But, we likely won't know the actual extent of the damage or even the possible benefits of the extended primary until the Dems -- and voters -- can focus on one nominee, and truly take stock of that candidate in a matchup against Sen. John McCain.

The flip side of the damage/benefit argument is that -- because the Dems are so busy merrily lobbing grenades at each other -- the Maverick is either (a) getting a free pass to regroup and refill his campaign war chest, (b) is free to get a head start on a general campaign against the Democratic Party generally, (c) letting the Democratic candidates do the dirty work for him, or (d) all of the above. If he's both smart and lucky, it's the last option.

But is the senior senator from Arizona truly so well positioned to take the best advantage of the golden opportunity the Democrats have so generously handed him? I really don't think so. In fact, I think McCain is still engaged in his own primary campaign of sorts -- not only against Internet celebrity Rep. Ron Paul -- but against himself as well. Why? Because the Straight Talk Express has yet to find its way into the hearts and minds of the Republican base, and the Maverick doesn't strike me as the type of guy to stop and ask for directions.

As a result, while the Dems rock and roll towards Denver, McCain is actually still trying to solidify an evangelical base that is not at all enamored of him, his candidacy, or the idea of a McCain presidency. Their lack of enthusiasm at the polls and in the polls has been palpable. Meanwhile, McCain's also got the Ron Paul Revolutionaries to contend with -- an intractable contingent who are clearly not doing cartwheels at the thought of John and Cindy's Excellent White House Adventure, either.

McCain's challenge is to generate enough enthusiasm to keep these disparate factions interested enough to go to the polls and voting for him on Nov. 4th. The evangelicals may abstain all together -- unless the idea of the lesser of two evils provides electoral inspiration. As for Paul's people, well, most are up in arms about the Iraq War, and know just what a McCain presidency would bring on that score; they're more likely write-in Paul's name or may even vote for the Democratic alternative come November. But that doesn't mean Ron's Rebels can't make plenty of interesting mischief in the remaining Republican primaries if they're of a mind to.

McCain ignores the Ron Paul Factor at his peril. Pennsylvania saw the Texan representative getting his best primary finish ever at 16% of the vote -- and he made only a handful of stops in the keystone state in April. "Americans are hungry for leadership that will protect the traditions that made our country so great," according to campaign spokesman Jesse Benton. "Dr. Paul's grassroots supporters in Pennsylvania and across the country are doing a tremendous job spreading our message, winning votes and laying a strong foundation for the future."

While the mainstream media seems to have largely missed Paul's Pennsylvania finish, 16% is nothing to sneeze at -- especially in a closed primary where the party' nominee has already been selected. It's also a good illustration of the fact that various factions of the Republican base still are not so keen on the McCain candidacy.

But McCain's isn't likely to want to spend any of his small bank account to turn out voters in primaries that are no more than a formality -- and the job would be a heavy lift, anyway. Strangely enough, then, the Maverick is somewhat at the mercy of Paul's supporters, who have every reason to turn out en mass and continue to get their guy ink and money at McCain's expense. Indeed, Paul's campaign says that he "... is continuing his bid for the Republican nomination to spread the message of constitutional government and personal freedom, build the GOP back to its traditional roots and continue the grassroots activism his candidacy inspired." And in another stroke of not so great timing for McCain, Paul's new book, The Revolution: A Manifesto, is set for release April 30th.

So, the Ron Paul Revolution moves on to North Carolina and Indiana, and if he makes it into the 20% range -- which is certainly within striking distance -- McCain is not going to be a happy camper. And the press might actually perk up a bit and start asking questions about a nominee whose party appears to be having second thoughts -- or at the very least is deeply conflicted.

This, and the lingering concerns of the religious right, mean that McCain is still running his own primary of sorts -- to convince a party that has already selected him that he really is the right man for the job.

Copyright 2008. The Zaftig Redhead. All Rights Reserved.

1 comment:

Gunfighter said...

Not only does John McCain have to convince the more conservative members of his party... he also has to convince the least conservative members, many of whom, if my Montgomery County, Md Republican colleagues can be believed, plan to vote for Barack Obama once he is nominated.

Sorry for the run-on sentence, but it's my first time, you see, and zaftig redheads intimidate me.