The McCain Brand

A story today in the “Washington Post” reports that John McCain “has been steadily gaining in national polls against Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, and he holds a lead in many of the swing states that are likely to determine who wins the presidency.”

How?

McCain’s advisers attribute this seeming contradiction to what they believe is McCain, a political brand that for over a decade has stood for strength, experience, straight talk and independence, qualities they believe help buffer him from many of the ills of his party. The attacks from conservatives that McCain withstood during the Republican primaries served to enhance his brand and bolster his position among moderates and independents, who are critical to winning in November, they contend.

“John McCain has an identity that’s well established with the American people,” said Steve Schmidt, one of his top political strategists. “He’s a person who stands up and fights for what he believes in. It’s appealing to independents. It’s appealing to conservative Democrats. It’s appealing to Republicans.”

Exactly. In 2000, I was living in SC and writing a twice-a-month political column for Newsguy, back when they could afford to pay “feature writers” for content. I was a McCain supported then, and I am now. Here is one of my columns from that time. I was wrong that Bush could not win, but I wasn’t wrong about the Republican party being “Bushwhacked,” nor was I wrong about McCain’s cross-party appeal. This, more than empty rhetoric of change, is what the nation needs.

Bush Whacked

I live in South Carolina, and we need rain desperatelyóthe mud has been slung from the low country to the mountains and all parts in between. As we prepare for our primary next Saturday, this horse race is too close to call, but if McCain loses on the 19th the Republican Party will have been Bush whacked.

I have nothing against Bush; actually, I have many fundamental points of agreement with him, but if he wins this battle heíll lose the war. I know this isnít conventional thinking, but while Bush may be the candidate best in step with typical Republicans, itíll take more than Republicans to put one in the White House.

Bushís father had a 92% approval rating after the Gulf War, the highest since they began keeping score, and he lost to the Governor of Arkansas. In 1996, Dole was unable to even put a significant dent in Clintonís bid for re-election, and his campaign almost took Congress with it. There are two reasons for this: Ross Perot and tax cuts.

Perot took 19% of the vote in 1992 by attracting independent and reform minded voters, the same kinds of people who handed McCain a resounding win in New Hampshire, the same kinds of people whom McCain needs to turn out here on Saturday. Bush canít motivate them.

McCain has already proven that he can not only get independent votes but that he can get Democrats to vote for him as well. Thanks to the rampant cynicism of our time (due in large part to the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave) many Republicans see this as a reason to not vote for McCain. They forget Ronald Reagan and his Democratic supporters.

In SC Democrat leaders are in fact telling some to vote McCain since the primaries are both open because no incumbent president is running, but it will backfire on them. Bill Bradley is proof of this: McCain is taking his supporters. Far from being a sign that the Democratic Party is lining up behind Gore, Bradleyís failing numbers are evidence that McCain has crossover appeal. The Republican Party canít win without it even if Bush happens to be a so-called better conservative.

McCain appeals to independents and some Democrats; he has passion and character; and he has a positive progressive message.

South Carolina always proves to be the corrective to insurgent campaigns that gain momentum in New Hampshire. We dashed the hopes of Buchanan against Bush, Gore against Clinton, Bush against Reagan. Right now itís a photo finish, but the stakes are high. If McCain wins, Republicans have a chance to regain the White House and keep the Congress; if he loses, they lose it all.

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