John McCain’s second bid for the presidency has become so shaky that Arizona’s senior senator is planning a major speaking tour of early primary states later this month to “officially” launch his campaign, while unofficially hoping to make a fresh start, as Tribune writer Paul Giblin reported Thursday.
McCain’s political future appears to have reached a critical juncture in the past 10 days as a growing chorus of the once fawning national media is asking if he can hang around long enough to reach the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary in late January. McCain trails former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani in most polls, and he raised $12.5 million for the first three months of 2007, compared to the $20.7 million that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney collected.
“There was once an air of inevitability around his nomination and that air is no longer there,” Nathan Gonzales, political editor of the Rothenberg Political Report, told Giblin.
Last week’s visit to Baghdad clearly backfired as McCain tried to call attention to a recent drop in violence, but Americans only saw him going out in public wearing a bulletproof vest while surrounded by heavily armed soldiers and helicopter gunships whirred overhead. Then on Sunday, “60 Minutes” offered a one-on-one interview that pressed hard to paint McCain as too old and too out of touch with American sentiment on Iraq to compete successfully for the White House.
Only those who underestimate McCain’s tenacity are going to be fooled into thinking the senator will make one last gasp and then quietly fade away by early summer. Remember, McCain shocked everyone by becoming George Bush’s main challenger for the 2000 GOP nomination when most pundits thought he didn’t have the money or the political acumen to attract voters. He got to that point by staying in the race and speaking his mind, even when many in his own party didn’t want to listen.
Today, McCain’s national name recognition means he always will have a chance in the early primary states as the fortunes of other candidates ebb and flow. And his steady work over the past seven years toward this campaign means he will continue bringing in at least some money to stay in the competition.
As McCain acknowledged last year, the best predictor of his chances lies with the news from Iraq. If President Bush’s new “surge” strategy does more than bring a brief slowdown in the death and destruction, then McCain will be hailed for his prescience in repeatedly calling for additional troops to secure Iraq. But if the “surge” fails to deliver a more stable Iraq in the next few months, then McCain will be deeply tied to an unpopular war with no room to maneuver against Republican candidates who don’t share his record.