The NY Times reports on John McCain on the campaign trail in Iowa. Unable to attain the status of the inevitable nominee, McCain is back on the Straight Talk Express in an attempt to reintroduce himself to voters. To win over conservatives, McCain will have to remind them that he has a solid voting record on a lot of issues that are important to them. His problem is that when he has deviated from conservatives, he has made a public show of it in the mainstream media. Thus, conservatives' attitudes toward McCain have become so poisoned that any case he makes for himself, however compelling, will be greeted with skepticism.
Even were he to win the nomination, I think he'd face a problem in the general election similar to the one Al Gore faced in 2000. Gore tried to distance himself from Bill Clinton during that election in the wake of Clinton's scandal-plagued second term. As a result, Gore was less identified with the strong economic growth, became resented by Clinton lovers in the party, and missed out on having the most talented Democratic politician of his generation campaign for him. At the same time, people who hated the administration still associated Gore with Clinton anyway.
McCain, too, has somehow managed to get himself in a situation in which he's the Washington insider closely associated with President Bush's most unpopular policy--the war in Iraq. This isn't really fair, because though McCain has been a staunch supporter of the war from the get go, he was always critical of the way it was being waged, specifically arguing repeatedly over the years for increasing the number of troops. But fair or not, he has become associated with the war policy, and yet at the same time, he is viewed with disdain by many Bush loyalists for the occasions on which he very publicly broke with the administration.
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