Monday, January 14, 2008

Can McCain Drive Off with SC?

It was presidential candidate Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) finest hour.

He looked the far right wing of the GOP, and the far left wing of the Democratic party in the eye, put the Straight Talk Express into high gear, and "laid on the horn" in a speech just before the primary in South Carolina during his 2000 White House bid... trumpeting that evangelical pooh bahs Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell were "agents of intolerance," comparing them to the left's wingnuts Louis Farrakhan and Al Sharpton. Intoxicating.

Conservative Christians in South Carolina, prompted by a blizzard of Bush dirty-tricks leaflets smearing McCain, and rejecting his straight-talking comments, put the brakes on his presidential bid.

But, this moment of telling truth to power won McCain the hearts of many Independents and Democrats even though his party abandoned him.

Since 2000 McCain has played the good soldier, many times coming to the defense of The Decider while disappointing many of his supporters who look at Bush as arrogant and an abject failure as president. With dismay they watched as McCain embraced The Decider, and made nice with Jerry Falwell.

Fast forward.... McCain's gassed up the bus and revived some of his straight talk message.... only this time he doesn't face the Bush bully boys, but the newly-minted darling of the religious right, Mike Huckabee. And, a formidable and politically-disciplined powerhouse in Mitt Romney.

So, did McCain's political plays to Bush's base give a boost to his current Oval Office quest?

It seems only he also has "annoyed, aggravated and nearly destroyed some of the most powerful members of Washington's Republican establishment, creating a list of antagonists including anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist and the vehement Gun Owners of America." (WaPo) Yet, McCain boosters will welcome the anamosity as evidence that the embattled McCain hasn't totally lost his in-your-face charm.

So the question next Saturday seems to be, can an iconoclastic, and knows-where-the-bodies-are-buried Washington GOP insider get past his party to the wider general election where his curmudgeonish personality resonates?

It'll be a close call. The GOP needs his experience and broad popularity in November. However, South Carolina may be payback time for McCain's old GOP foes.... and conservative Christians with long memories and a new champion in Huckabee.

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