McCain's Move Off Deep End Having Real Consequences

By many accounts John McCain is succeeding in his goal to position himself as the frontrunner for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination. He has hired GOP insider (and lawbreaker) Terry Nelson as his campaign manager. He has brought on a professor from Jerry Falwell's* Liberty University, Brent O'Donnell, as an advisor. He is tapping Henry Kissinger to serve as his honorary campaign co-chair for New York state. He is even apparently securing the financial support of many Bush contributors.

Yet at the same time McCain's standing among the broader electorate is declining. This is not a coincidence. This should not come as a surprise. This morning Josh Marshall picks up on new polling from ABC News and The Washington Post that shows McCain sinking fast among independent voters, who Marshall rightly notes " are McCain's big constituency."

In contrast, McCain's favorability ratings have declined over the past nine months. Among independents, his support has dropped 15 percentage points since March. Independents were his strongest supporters when he sought the Republican nomination in 2000. The decline comes at a time when McCain is calling for sending more troops to Iraq and has aggressively reached out to conservative groups and Christian conservative leaders.

That's not all. By now, no doubt, you've seen (despite the efforts of the editors of the magazine) the Newsweek poll showing Hillary Clinton (sans "Rodham" -- an important point given other recent polling) would defeat John McCain by a 50 percent to 43 percent margin. In that same poll, Barack Obama, about whom only 41 percent of registered voters know "a lot" (14 percent) or "some" (27 percent), is statistically tied with McCain, with the Arizona Senator at 45 percent and the Illinois Senator at 43 percent. (Update [2006-12-19 16:34:36 by Jonathan Singer]: In the comments, reader demiowa points to the recent Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll that shows John Edwards also statistically tied with McCain, with Edwards at 43 percent and McCain at 41 percent.)

While these numbers are no doubt at least as indicative of the degree to which the current political environment is generally more favorable to the Democrats than the Republicans as it is the race for the White House in 2008, these numbers -- both the head-to-head and the favorables among independents -- should strike real fear within the McCain team and, indeed, among the Republican ranks. But that's not the only piece of data that should scare Republicans. Charlie Cook, looking at the meaning of November 7 and December 12 (the Bonilla-Rodriguez runoff in Texas) for his column this week, writes,

If Republicans don't increase their performance among either Hispanics, the fastest growing minority in the country, or among African Americans (neither happened this year), then they will have to perform much better among white voters simply to replicate their presidential victories of 2000 and 2004 and get their majorities back. Simply put, this Texas loss just added insult to injury for the GOP and gave party strategists even more to worry about as they look forward to 2008.

These numbers are not intended to instill triumphalism or foster a false sense of optimism. Far from that. But at the same time they do show that John McCain is not nearly the unstoppable force that many believe him to be, that he his support among independents is not nearly as strong as it is assumed to be or that it once was, and that even a supposedly divisive Democratic nominee or a not-very-well-known Democratic nominee could give him at least a run for his money in a general election campaign.

Tags: General 2008, John McCain (all tags)

Comments

16 Comments

What underlies his desire to be president?

I know, they all want it so badly, each one who runs.

But it's still hard for me to grasp just how bad McCain wants to be president and what that isn't obvious might underlie the desire.

by lemonyellow 2006-12-19 09:56AM | 0 recs
I think people are waking up to the real McCain

My three-year-old son occasionally has play dates with a girl from his pre-school last year. The girl's mother is a classic moderate suburban Republican, who voted for Bush twice (the second time reluctantly, she says, because she didn't like Kerry). When I was getting to know her last spring, this woman would say things like, "Nothing makes me madder than the Iraq War," but then she would say that she'd love to see John McCain run for president and would volunteer for his campaign in Iowa if he runs. (Of course, Lieberman is her favorite Democrat.)

I would try to explain that McCain and Lieberman were rock-solid supporters of this failed war, and that McCain never opposed Bush on anything that mattered. It was like talking to a wall. McCain was a wonderful person, as far as this woman was concerned.

By the way, this woman voted Democrat in the November 2006 elections because she thought the Republicans were too extreme.

Last week our kids had another play date. I didn't bring up politics, but she must have seen something on tv or heard something on the radio that got her riled up. She started railing against the Iraq War again, but this time she said, "And McCain--is he crazy? He wants to send more troops? If he thinks he's ever going to be president he better shut up."

Nine months ago she wouldn't listen to me when I tried to explain to her that McCain wanted to sink us deeper in Iraq. Somehow, though, it has seeped into her consciousness that McCain actually wants to escalate our involvement there.

I imagine that a lot of Americans are slowly getting a clue about that charlatan.

by desmoinesdem 2006-12-19 10:02AM | 0 recs
Re: I think people are waking up to the real McCai

Sending more troops is one of the worst ideas politically to emerge in decades. It makes Iraq look even more like Vietnam than it did before. There is no public support at all to send more troops except among the extreme fringe.

It could very well derail McCain in some place like New Hampshire as it did LBJ if Rudy, Romney, Huckabee, Hagel, or someone can frame that as an issue well and present themselves as an anti-war Republican. That would be unfortunate as I am starting to think McCain could be one of the weakest nominees the GOP could offer.

by robliberal 2006-12-19 10:10AM | 0 recs
Agreed - I'm worried they won't nominate him

McCain would be Dole without the sense of humor.  I think there's a real hunger in 2008 for a "fresh" voice - Hillary, Obama or Richardson would automatically provide that based on the gender/race barrier they'd be shattering; someone like Edwards based on his generational message; on the GOP side, someone like Giuliani or Bloomberg based on their unconventional path, or someone like Huckabee just for being an unknown (with the weight-loss story to boot; don't underestimate the appeal of that!).  McCain would just look old in every sense of the word.

by ri 2006-12-19 11:37AM | 0 recs
Re: McCain's Move Off Deep End Having Real Consequ

If he is the nominee McCain may very well be a weak candidate by the general election. There may be a Bob Dole factor if voters start to see him as part of the problem and not a solution. He is attaching himself to the hard right at the very time they are declining and in disarray, the "surge" is definitely the wrong solution to Iraq and give Clinton, Obama, or whoever our nominee is a good opening to frame the Iraq issue.

Newsweek was able to some extent to bury a poll showing Clinton and Obama have the ability to defeat McCain but the media will not be able to do that forever. Clinton, Obama, or Edwards (and especially some combination of 2 of them on the ticket) will have the energy to be able to wage an all out 24 hour a day campaign. In 1992 Bill Clinton barely slept they would keep flying from stop to stop all night long. The Democratic ticket in 2008 will have a ton of surrogates as well. That worked well in 2004 and 2006 when people like Wesley Clark, Al Gore, and others and non-political figures like Michael J. Fox appeared at rallies. By election day John McCain may look like a very tired old man as Bob Dole did when he lost.

by robliberal 2006-12-19 10:04AM | 0 recs
Re: McCain's Move Off Deep End Having Real Consequ

He already does, but that is, afterall, what you will look like after selling your soul to the devil.

by KainIIIC 2006-12-19 10:21AM | 0 recs
Re: McCain's Move Off Deep End Having Real Consequ

Obama especially, and to a certain extent Edwards, would present a great contrast for voters looking for a change from the "part of the problem" establishment. If the GOP does get a Nixonian "anti-war" change candidate, however, the tables could end up turning on Clinton, given her longtime support and defense of the war. Edwards also has the problem of his vote for the war, though his expressions of regret were more early and forceful.

The one thing I worry about with an Obama or Edwards candidacy is that the GOP could trot out the "inexperienced" card and get the MSM to start talking about whether the Democratic candidate is "weak on defense" or experienced enough to handle National Security. This is a common frame we seem to get pigeonholed into, and terrorism will definitely still be an issue in '08. Maybe a Clark or a Richardson at the bottom of the ticket could reassure suburban parents that their kids aren't going to get blown up because the President is a Democrat who hasn't served on the Armed Forces committee for 20 years.

That being said, Obama and Edwards would be a really exciting ticket, and would definitely offer a new direction for the country a la Clinton-Gore '92. As a college student, I can almost guarantee we'd maintain the 60% of the under 30 vote we got in '06 if that was our ticket.

by Max Fletcher 2006-12-19 10:28AM | 0 recs
Re: McCain's Move Off Deep End Having Real Consequ

As another college student, I'd say that Obama vs. any non-McCain gives us 70% of young people. McCain vs. Hillary, though, could put us way back among youth - I haven't seen any poll numbers but anecdotally she's not too popular.

by CT student 2006-12-19 05:34PM | 0 recs
McCain

Correction: Liberty University is Falwell's not Robertson. Robertson's is Regents University in VA Beach.

by bjschmid 2006-12-19 10:21AM | 0 recs
Re: McCain's Move Off Deep End Having Real Consequ

Bush's decision to send up to 30,000 more troops to Baghdad is political gold for Hillary, Obama and Edwards.  It is political s*** for McCain because he loses his independent support over any of the three Democrats.  By voicing support for increasing troop levels, McCain is now inexorably tied to the war's outcome and cannot flip-flop when the "surge" doesn't produce the desired result.

McCain is the only Republican who can actually get through the primary that could potentially win.  Without him, they have no viable Presidential candidates on their bench (Rudy won't make it through the primary).

by dpinzow 2006-12-19 10:32AM | 0 recs
Re: McCain's Move Off Deep End Having Real Consequ

McCain is wrongly trying to court the conservative base. His consultants should be fired. Did they not notice the lessons of the midterms? Even the joint chiefs disagree with the White House's call for more troops.

It's ironic because he's trying to be an "independent" in McCain style by going against the grain but when the stakes are so high, its not going to win him the presidency.    

by BlueCheese 2006-12-19 12:00PM | 0 recs
Edwards also beats McCain

in a MSNBC poll just out last week.  So lets not narrow it down to just the big 2 quite yet.

by demiowa 2006-12-19 10:51AM | 0 recs
True. In the latest NBC/WSJ poll, Edwards was...

...the only one to beat him.

In some head-to-head match ups, McCain leads Clinton by four points (47 to 43 percent) and Obama by five points (43 percent to 38 percent). But -- in an interesting twist -- the Arizona senator trails Edwards by two points (43 percent to 41 percent).

That reinforces the SurveyUSA state-by-state results.

by MeanBoneII 2006-12-19 11:48AM | 0 recs
This may be nitpicking...
I read the blog often but rarely comment. I love the commentary but one thing that has always bugged me in posts that quote polls is the use of the term "statistical tie" and its a problem with all political blogs, not just MyDD.  I'm never sure what the forum for this comment should be (maybe I should write my first diary), but I can hold my tongue no longer...A poll result within the margin of error is NOT a statistical tie.
Without getting into a bunch of statistical terms like standard deviations and confidence intervals, there is significance to a poll result within the margin of error assuming the poll has a represenative sample. The result being within the margin of error, it has a greater probability of being a non-representive result than a poll with a result outside the margin of error.
My apologies if I broke some blog rules by posting a little off topic, I agree whole-heartedly with the premise of the post, McCain has lost his independent credentials and should be treated as establishment not maverick from now on.
Feedback would be appreciated.  
by Nick A 2006-12-19 12:27PM | 0 recs
Re: This may be nitpicking...

I'd argue that when a poll is commisioned for an election that won't take place for nearly two years and shows a two point difference between the candidates, it is to all intents and purposes a tie.

by Englishlefty 2006-12-19 12:53PM | 0 recs
Re: McCain's Move Off Deep End Having Real Consequ
I say we take Hillary and st. mccain and lock them away somewhere and not have either run.
Everyone would be happier for it.  They are despised by thier own parties let alone the other side.  With McCain's pandering he lost his independent and moderate voters and the righties hate him.  
by vwcat 2006-12-19 03:41PM | 0 recs

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