Election 2008

What Dems Need to Know About John McCain

A former GOP operative gives the background on what it will take to compete with the likely GOP nominee.
The adage in Republican presidential politics is to run right in the primary, then left into the general election. After Gov. Romney suspended his campaign, Sen. John McCain bolted off the line of scrimmage into an end zone post pattern. What Democrats need to know about Sen. McCain is that he is no easy pickings for the Democratic presidential nominee and that he has the record to compete heavily for the sweet center of the American electorate.

Democrats should keep in mind the fact Rush Limbaugh, Dr. James Dobson (founder of Focus on the Family) and a collective booing by attendees of this season's CPAC convention adds up to a Sister Souljah moment for Sen. McCain. Sen. McCain can't be a Bush Republican if all of those people despise him. No amount of ribald applause from that crowd is enough for Sen. McCain to want to emulate the Bush Administration, which is much like a wounded animal looking for a cool, shady place to die.

Democrats know well that Republicans are relying on Sen. Clinton winning the Democratic Party presidential nomination so that her polarity delivers a victory for the GOP in November. While conservatives distrust Sen. McCain - they will shelve it and vote for him if Sen. Clinton is the presidential nominee of her party.

Democrats should also know that if Sen. Obama is the nominee then a larger than anticipated portion of Democratic white males may balk at casting a vote for him - reluctant to give up the franchise when they can cast their vote for a white male with war hero status and an ability to work with the most liberal Democrats in Washington, DC to get things done.

The list of bipartisan endeavor is prolific: the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act (with Sen. Feingold), bipartisan legislation addressing immigration (with Sen. Kennedy), climate change (with Sen. Lieberman), patient bill of rights (with former Sen. Edwards), and the Gang of 14 (good luck to Dr. Dobson using the Gang of 14 argument in a persuasive way - his radio listeners will fall asleep at the wheel before grasping his convoluted argument). If it is true that America is looking for a president who is more about problem-solving and less about dogma, no candidate currently in the contest boasts a record that rivals Sen. McCain's ability to reach across the partisan aisle.

Democrats should also understand what many Republicans know. Sen. McCain has a long legislative record and a scandalous relationship with the S&L crisis that is ripe for comparison to the sub-prime mortgage meltdown -- there is a lot of fodder for attack. Picking the right issues and using them at the right time has a lot to do with beating Sen. McCain in the fall.

Also to his vulnerabilities; Sen. McCain is not made for the television era of politics. Against either Democratic candidate, but especially Sen. Obama, Sen. McCain runs the risk of looking like Richard Nixon in his debate against Sen. Kennedy in 1960 in the first televised presidential debate. Radio listeners scored it a win for Nixon. The 70 million television viewers saw a sweaty Nixon fold to a charismatically cool Kennedy. A bona fide American hero who puts most of us to shame, Sen. McCain's body is broken and that does not play well before the cruel audience that is the American television watching public. What Democrats should know is that they have the advantage here and need not press it, lest risking negative blowback in the form of compassion for Sen. McCain.

Democrats need to respect that Sen. McCain is not a knuckle-dragging, Neanderthal conservative. This is a thoughtful man with a life experience like no other candidate in this contest. Unafraid to cross party lines, and even pick fights with his Republican colleagues, he is the quintessential western Republican, conservative spirit who does not betray his principles.

These are some of the things that Democrats may not know about John McCain, but will start to realize pretty quick.

Here's one other thing I didn't know about John McCain. My father taught him how to swim in New London, CT in the early 1940s. I survived my father's unique brand of instruction and understand in a small way that it means Sen. McCain is a resilient soul -- his life story being evidence of that. That life story is why Democrats face losing if they do not respect the opponent they've drawn in the 2008 presidential election.