McCain’s just completed blogger call had a mix of Iraq and campaign questions. (Phil will have more later.) I asked him about Iowa and whether his poor standing in the polls there posed a problem for his effort and whether he would back out. He candidly admitted that “we’re having difficulty” there, mentioning his opposition to ethanol subsidies. He said he was “struggling” but that his ground team was strong and he intended to participate in the Iowa debate in December. He then made the argument that it is all about “beating expectations” and jousting to be the “comeback kid.” He gave no indication he would pull out of Iowa at this stage. I asked about the reports alleging that Romney would not want a Muslim in his cabinet. He said forcefully that “we need to take the highest and best qualified people.” He asserted that since we have Muslims serving in the armed forces there is no reason why they could not serve in any capacity in government. He then analogized to the Judge Tuttman situation, pointing out that Romney had said “we needed more women” and reiterated his(McCain’s) intention to make merit based appointments. Later in the call Jim Geraghty asked if it would be “useful” to have a Muslim in the cabinet. McCain carefully responded that he would certainly call on the Muslim community for advice but that the decision to staff cabinet positions would be made on the basis of background, expertise, etc. Jim asked specifically about Zalmay Khalilzad. McCain said he had been in the position of ambassador to Iraq because of his experience and qualifications, not his religion, just as Ambassador Crocker was chosen for expertise.
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