Political Hay

McCain Vilsacked

If he can't win Iowa, there's no reason for him to run.

By 11.15.06

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Over the weekend, Senator John McCain announced the formation of an exploratory committee to consider another run for president. Although the odds are against it, the committee should tell him not to run. A host of issues that are sure to play large in the GOP primaries work against the Senator. Worst of all, McCain now faces a huge obstacle in Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack.

On taxes, always a GOP staple, McCain's record provides unending fodder for his opponents. Although he recently supported an extension of the Bush tax cuts, he opposed all of them when they were first proposed, at times sounding like the ultimate class warrior. "I cannot in good conscience support a tax cut in which so many of the benefits go to the most fortunate among us at the expense of middle-class Americans who need tax relief," he declared in 2001.

What was he thinking drafting an immigration bill with Oh Great One, Ted Kennedy? Expect pictures showing McCain and Kennedy together in the commercials his GOP opponents run saying he supports amnesty for illegals.

Then there is his 2000 remark about evangelicals being "agents of intolerance" and "corrupting influences." Perhaps his recent make-up session with Jerry Falwell has undone most of the damage. On the other hand, social conservatives can have long memories.

And if those weren't enough, there are his posturing on global warming and, of course, the infamous McCain-Feingold campaign finance law. Ultimately, McCain has handed his primary opponents a lot of choice ammunition to use against him.

However, the worst news for McCain is the announcement last week that Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack plans on running for the Democratic nomination for President. Vilsack's announcement means that most Democrats will skip the Iowa Caucuses. Back in 1992, all Democratic candidates ignored the caucuses when Iowa Senator Tom Harkin jumped in the race. This time around the only candidate who will have even a chance at challenging Vilsack in Iowa is Hillary Clinton. But the political structure and loyalty that Vilsack has built up in the state make even her odds long ones.

Vilsack's entry hurts McCain because, as in 1992, an uncompetitive race in Iowa will make New Hampshire the first real contest for the Democrats. A host of Democratic candidates will be running in New Hampshire, making the Democratic ballot much more appealing to the independents who can participate in the Granite State's open primary. Thus, many of the independents who contributed to McCain's stunning 2000 victory in the New Hampshire Republican primary will instead be voting in the Democratic one.

Adding to McCain's likely woes in New Hampshire is the Republican contest in the Iowa Caucuses will be competitive. The Iowa Caucus will winnow out some of the less competitive GOP candidates, making the Republican primary in New Hampshire less interesting than the Democratic one. This will give independents even more incentive to participate in the Democratic Primary, further reducing the number of McCain's supporters.

In 2000, McCain brilliantly positioned himself as the spoiler to the George W. Bush juggernaut. This time, however, his opposition will be ready for him, and the dynamics of the race are much less favorable. McCain should hope that his exploratory committee returns with a negative recommendation. For in 2008, the Straight Talk Express will quickly run out of gas.

David Hogberg is a writer living in the Washington area. He also hosts his own website, Hog Haven.

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David Hogberg is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.  Follow David Hogberg on Twitter.