February 19, 2007


In Limbo in Washington, McCain Comes Alive in Iowa: Campaigning for Conservatives, He Plays Up Fiscal Discipline (Dan Balz, 2/19/07, Washington Post)

Former Texas senator Phil Gramm was wrapping up his introduction in Des Moines on Saturday morning when a white-haired man wearing gray slacks and a big, brown leather jacket ambled up the aisle and stopped at the side of the stage, the curl of a smile on his lips. [...]

[A]s he campaigned across Iowa this weekend, there were flashes of the old McCain. During town hall meetings in Des Moines, Cedar Rapids and Davenport, he staunchly defended his position on the war, decried a Republican Party that he said has lost its way and punctuated question-and-answer sessions with his particular brand of humor.

"I had my glass of ethanol this morning, and I'm feeling good," he said to ripples of laughter as he delivered his opening remarks to a jampacked audience in a Des Moines hotel ballroom. "I hope you did, too. Tastes good."

When a man said he was serving in the Marines in Vietnam around the time McCain was being held in a North Vietnamese prison camp, the senator interjected, "Why didn't you come get me?"

As the audience broke into laughter, the man responded, "Marines always love to rescue the Navy when they get the chance."

"That's what you get for being a smart [expletive]," McCain said of being turned into the butt of the joke.

A young man in Davenport said pointedly: "You ditched Iowa in 2000. Why should we support you?" The candidate responded, to peals of laughter: "You know, we should never let these young punks in. No respect. You remind me of my own kids."

The ethanol joke was not lost on anyone, either. When he ran for president eight years ago, McCain skipped the Iowa caucuses, saying he did not have the resources to compete both there and in New Hampshire. But many Republicans suspected that his opposition to ethanol subsidies, vital to the Iowa economy, influenced his decision to stay out of the state.

McCain lost that first race for president after a bitter fight with Bush, who proved more adept at appealing to the Republican base. Now back for a second try for the GOP nomination, support for ethanol -- he says it is economically justifiable now that oil prices have risen -- is just one of a number of things he has been willing to swallow to try to win.

The McCain team is focused on building an infrastructure of financial and political support second to none in the GOP field. The candidate himself, whose formal announcement will come next month, is determined to make himself acceptable to Republicans who spurned him the last time around.

McCain's path to the nomination is made less difficult by the absence of a top-tier candidate with the ability to consolidate the conservative base of the party. Former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani is far more liberal on social issues than McCain is, and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is struggling to explain his conversion from a social moderate in the 1990s to an ardent conservative now that he is running for president.

McCain advisers believe he can change attitudes among many culturally conservative voters and win the nomination as the favorite of the GOP establishment. On what was McCain's first campaign swing through Iowa since setting up his presidential campaign committee, the differences between 2000 and today were evident.

If he were to name Phil Gramm his shadow Treasury Secretary he'd sew up the entire economic Right.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 19, 2007 8:37 AM

McCain better start sewing up something. He's headed for the finish line upside down and on fire. Rudy has opened up an eight-point lead on him in Real Clear Politics' average of all polls. It's a crushing 14-point lead in the most recent three polls.

Don't expect Orrin to run any of those stories. But out in the real world, the Arizona grump is bouncing off the wall and into the infield.

Posted by: Casey Abell at February 19, 2007 9:11 AM

Rudy's about to catch Colin Powell in the popularity polls.

Posted by: oj at February 19, 2007 9:49 AM

Real World

Presidential Campaign Iowa and New Hampshire are little colonial enclaves of Washington City, populated by the same set of narcissists, loudmouths and their flatterers, but with a different set design and walk-on extras. Both bear about as much relationship to the "real world" as do Disneyland and "Burning Man".

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at February 19, 2007 11:29 AM

Phil Gramm excited the conservatives so much he didn't past 1% or the first primary. When you look to a candidates surrogates to generate voters you've got a problem.

McCain has the same problem Hillary does - the need to placate the base so that they can move to middle to generate enough support in the general. Hillary tried moving to the center and the far left started screaming so now she is moving hard left again. McCain is not trusted by the GOP base so efforts to placate the middle/MSM will backfire. You only need to look to McCain's home state of AZ where a sizable number of GOPers are pledging not to support McCain for the presidential run.

Posted by: AWW at February 19, 2007 12:12 PM

We won't forgive for campaign finance "reform."

Posted by: Joseph Hertzlinger at February 19, 2007 12:23 PM

We forgave Reagan the most permissive abortion regime in the world. CFR is rather minor by comparison.

Posted by: oj at February 19, 2007 12:53 PM

Gramm was a cracker. He couldn't win NH. McCain is a favorite son.

Posted by: oj at February 19, 2007 12:54 PM


Ah, classic hatred of the voters who actually decide these races.

Posted by: oj at February 19, 2007 12:58 PM

Exactly.Those two little states should not be making such decisions for the entire country, and then inflicting those choices (ethanol, Patrick Buchanan, Jimmy Carter) on the rest of the country. Now we've got the permanent campaign for the Presidential Primary Campaign for the Nomination for the Presidential Campaign, and you consider that to be "reality"?

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at February 19, 2007 1:37 PM

It puts me in mind of the Oldest Established Permanent Floating Crap Game ... run by Nathan Detroit?

Posted by: erp at February 19, 2007 2:08 PM

Makes little difference, because the grouch won't get the nomination. But McCain could start lightening up a little. Powerline ran a rueful entry on how his gloom-and-doom is turning off everybody. The grump does look almost embalmed.

No wonder Rudy is breezing to the nomination. It helps to have a dead opponent.

Posted by: Casey Abell at February 19, 2007 2:10 PM

"... is just one of a number of things he has been willing to swallow to try to win."
A summary of McVain's problem in one short phrase - what does he really stand for? No one knows, not even Johnny boy. We do know what he doesn't believe in: free 1st Amendment political speech, tax cuts, enforcement of immigration laws, and straight up-or-down votes on judges without filibuster.

I was interviewed by Quinnipiac over the weekend (first time in my life). There were a whole series of questions about who I would vote for with all the combinations (Hillary, Obama, Edwards, Algore) vs. (Giuliani, McCain, Romney). I took Giuliani and Romney over all the Dhimmicrats, but said I would vote Libertarian if McCain were the candidate.

Posted by: jd watson at February 19, 2007 2:26 PM

He has a thirty year conservative voting record that demonstrates his beliefs to be in the mainstream of the party. His rivals have to disavow their records to run.

Posted by: oj at February 19, 2007 3:17 PM

Meanwhile, the real press is writing about how he's getting his chops back:


You're getting trapped in the blogosphere and divorced from reality.

Posted by: oj at February 19, 2007 3:19 PM

OJ - the real press will love him until he gets the GOP nomination and then they will turn on him in a second. His reputation will be worse than Michael Jackson's when they get through with him.

And if he has such a stellar conservative record how come conservatives of all stripes a) don't know what he stands for and b) don't trust him?

Posted by: AWW at February 19, 2007 3:32 PM

Love? They're just reporting.

Posted by: oj at February 19, 2007 5:25 PM

Yes, the actual vote for the nominees is reality.

Posted by: oj at February 19, 2007 5:27 PM

Meanwhile in SC today John Dea . . . er McCain is railing that the Iraq War has been "mismanaged for years and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will be remembered as one of the worst in history."

Rummy apparently didn't use enough troops for McCain.

This guy cannot become President, if this is the way he thinks.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at February 19, 2007 5:56 PM

He'll be a bad president, but that's neither here nor there as far as his being odds on to win. He's in a hierarchical party in a conservative country.

Posted by: oj at February 19, 2007 6:38 PM

"He'll Be a bad president but it's his turn" Great motto for McCain '08

Posted by: AWW at February 19, 2007 7:46 PM

Look who McCain's running against, two northeast liberals trying to run from their pasts as fast as their legs will carry them.

Posted by: sam at February 19, 2007 9:44 PM


Romney may be dissembling, but no matter what you think of Rudy, he isn't denying his past. While I wish he were more like Bush on certain 'values' issues, he isn't hiding. His statement about judges is fine - he knows if he doesn't stick to it, he will suffer the way Bush Sr. did when he broke his word on taxes, or he will suffer the way McCain is now.

Posted by: jim hamlen at February 19, 2007 11:10 PM