January 20, 2008


This Time, McCain Defused Conservative Attacks (Juliet Eilperin and Jonathan Weisman, 1/20/08, Washington Post)

From Rush Limbaugh to Tom DeLay, voices that once held sway over the Republican rank and file unloaded on John McCain over the last week, trying to use a conservative electorate in South Carolina to derail the Arizona senator's quest for the Republican nomination.

But though McCain failed to persuade many of the old Republican power brokers, he wrapped up the Republican establishment where it counted most, South Carolina. His win Saturday underscored how different McCain's campaign has been this year compared with eight years ago, when a similar conservative assault effectively ended his campaign here and handed his party's presidential nomination to George W. Bush.

"I think the people of South Carolina are getting to know John McCain now, a little more than they know those folks anymore," longtime McCain aide Mark Salter said Saturday night of the senator's old nemeses.

McCain's South Carolina victory may have set him on course (LIZ SIDOTI, 1/20/08, Associated Press)
John McCain claimed a sweet South Carolina victory that eluded him in 2000 — and, if history is a guide, may have set himself on course to become the GOP presidential nominee.

No Republican since 1980 has won the party's nod without a triumph in the first-in-the-South primary.

From inside the Blogosphere and the Beltway, the ease with which John McCain is winning the nomination is inexplicable--after all he doesn't kowtow to the Establishment Right. For the rest of America it's inevitable--he's the most popular conservative in the country, in large part because he won't dance to their tune.

Florida becomes showdown state for GOP: It's a microcosm of the party: part northern, part Southern and part evangelical (Doyle McManus, 1/20/08, Los Angeles Times)

South Carolina was an important test for McCain because its Republican electorate is dominated by Southern social conservatives, the voters who derailed his presidential campaign in 2000.

An exit poll of primary voters showed that McCain didn't win a majority among conservative or evangelical Christian voters this time, either -- but he won just enough of their votes to deny victory to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who failed to unify social conservatives behind his cause.

"Huckabee is one of the big losers here," Republican strategist Eddie Mahe said. "He's a long way from his last victory." Huckabee won the campaign's initial test, the Iowa caucuses, on Jan. 3, but he has won none of the five contests since.

The exit poll found that Huckabee won a little more than 40% of voters who described themselves as evangelical Christians -- but that meant that more than half of all evangelical voters went to other candidates, including about one-fourth for Mc- Cain.

"If you can hold Huckabee to 40% of the evangelical vote, you've got him beat," Republican pollster Neil Newhouse said. "He was not only unable to expand beyond his evangelical base, he was unable to coalesce the evangelicals."

McCain can now claim that he has won hotly contested primaries in the campaign's most conservative Southern state, South Carolina, and its most moderate Northern state, New Hampshire -- a useful argument in a party that is searching for a candidate capable of unifying its fragmented parts. That puts McCain "in the strongest position of any candidate at this point to win the nomination," Reed said.

The Exit Polls: Why McCain won S.C. (David Paul Kuhn, Jan 20, 2008, Politico)
[M]cCain could not have won the South’s first presidential contest without making significant inroads with conservative Christians, a group he stood at odds with eight years ago.

Exit polling conducted by a consortium of news organizations found that in measure after measure, Mike Huckabee won social conservatives by roughly a 10-point margin: weekly church attendees, those who think abortion should be illegal, and those who believe religious beliefs matter in a candidate a “great deal” or “somewhat.” But for the former Baptist preacher that margin proved too small to win Saturday’s primary.

McCain’s victory was built upon one bloc after another. For the 46 percent of voters who based their ballot on personal qualities, McCain won them by 17 points over Huckabee. In comparison, though 52 percent of voters said issues mattered most, Huckabee only won them by eight points.

McCain narrowly won those who believed the economy mattered most (four in ten voters) as well as those who said terrorism (14 percent of voters). Huckabee edged him out among those who said the same for illegal immigration, a quarter of voters. But McCain won those who said Iraq mattered most, 16 percent of voters, by an unambiguous margin — 27 points.

McCain’s wide, double-digit leads on questions on Iraq or with those who felt experience was the most important quality in a candidate were crucial to his victory.

No less critical was that, while McCain split self-identified Republicans with Huckabee, he won independents by 17 points over the former Arkansas governor.

Fred and Michigan Leave Huck Hurting (MICHAEL SCHERER, 1/20/08, TIME)
However magical his victory in Iowa, Mike Huckabee's campaign staff knew that their dance towards the Republican nomination had to be a two-step. Without wins in Iowa and South Carolina, the two early voting states teeming with evangelical voters, trouble would loom.

On Saturday, trouble arrived — along with bad weather, the surging campaign of John McCain and the unexpectedly fierce attacks of also-ran Fred Thompson. As the results poured in, it became clear to Huckabee's senior advisors that Thompson had made significant inroads in the conservative northern part of the state, where Huckabee needed big numbers to fend off McCain's moderate support along the coast. "We needed bigger margins out of Greenville and Spartanburg, and the difference was Fred," said Huckabee's campaign manager, Chip Saltsman, after his candidate conceded. "He wasn't running a race for him. He was attacking Mike Huckabee for the last two weeks."

South Carolina: McCain's Happier State (David Broder, 1/20/08, Real Clear Politics)
[Lindsey] Graham said the real difference this year is that "we've had eight years to get to know John" and to reflect, perhaps, on the decision the state made in rejecting him for Bush the last time around.

To encourage that reconsideration, the McCain campaign surrounded the candidate with people who symbolically reinforced the message that McCain is a mainstream, Reagan-era Republican.

He came to Columbia flanked by two icons of the conservative movement -- Tom Coburn, the physician-senator from Oklahoma, and Jack Kemp, the former congressman from New York.

Coburn is a hero to two types of Republicans -- those for whom abortion is an abomination and those who view wasteful federal spending as almost as serious a moral failing. He has built an uncompromising reputation on both subjects. When Coburn testifies that he regards McCain not just as an ally but as a model, it challenges the notion that McCain is an unreliable maverick.

As for Kemp, no one has a longer history of championing supply-side economics, with its persistent belief that lower tax rates spur economic growth, than the old quarterback and one-time secretary of housing and urban development.

McCain is better known for fighting earmarks and other forms of "nonessential" spending, and famously opposed Bush's first round of tax cuts because they did not call for similar spending reductions. But Kemp told the voters here that McCain wants an overhaul of the whole tax system, "and I will work with him" -- adding to reporters that he also admires the senator's insistence on a "humane" approach to the issue of immigration.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 20, 2008 7:15 AM

When the Huckster finally endorses Johnny Mac, there'll be so many heads exploding it'll sound like the 4th of July. Neither Mitt nor Rudy appeals to rural Republicans ... Huck's base ... the way McCain does.

And keep an eye on Michael Steele (former Lt. Gov. of MD, now chairman of GOPAC) for VP, especially if Hill wins the nomination by alienating black voters. Steele won a solid chunk of the black vote when he ran for Senate in MD.

Posted by: ghostcat at January 20, 2008 5:46 PM

Yes, and even Fred will probably endorse McCain - they were buddies in the Senate.

J.C. Watts would be a more solid choice than Steele, although he may not want to get back in the game.

McCain will have to go with Fred, Haley Barbour, Mitch Daniels, Tim Pawlenty, or some other executive type. Perhaps Lamar! or Tom Ridge.

Posted by: jim hamlen at January 21, 2008 12:59 AM

McCain "wins" SC with 33% of the vote. What is essentially happening is the anti-McCain forces are split among Mitt, Huckabee, and Fred. If one or 2 drop out then McCain stops winning these primaries. And note that McCain's vote totals and winning percentages in these states are significantly lower than what he did in 2000.

McCain probably gets the nomination as the opposition to him remains split long enough for the party elders to anoint him in the misguided notion that he can beat the Dem nominee in the fall.

Posted by: AWW at January 21, 2008 7:33 PM