Thursday, November 16, 2006

John McCain to Launch Presidential Bid

Today's Los Angeles Times reports that Senator John McCain is set to launch his presidential exploratory committee, the first formal step in making a bid for the 2008 Republican nomination:

Striding through the wreckage of the midterm election, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) will take a major step today toward a 2008 presidential bid by announcing he has established a committee to formally explore a campaign and making two major speeches laying out his vision for the future of the GOP.

McCain has been considered the front-runner for the Republican nomination in a field that changed rapidly after the tumultuous midterms.

In response to the party's big losses, McCain has been moving to make a fresh appeal to the surly voters who helped end GOP control of the House and the Senate — Republicans and independents angry about government corruption and excessive spending.

That anger contributed to Democratic gains in 2006, but it may open a political opportunity for McCain in 2008 by highlighting concerns about lax ethics and pork-barrel spending — his signature issues....

Other potential White House contenders are jockeying for position as well. On Wednesday, former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy G. Thompson, secretary of Health and Human Services in President Bush's first term, said he intended to form a presidential exploratory committee.

Earlier this week, former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani also took a step in that direction. Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is courting evangelical Republicans. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-El Cajon) has announced a longshot White House bid.

But allies of McCain, whose maverick streak is thought to have cross-party appeal, say he is in the best position to thrive in the aftermath of election results that illustrated the GOP's weakness among independents.
The Times piece notes some problems a McCain candidacy may face:

McCain also will speak today to the Federalist Society, an organization of conservative lawyers that has been at the heart of bitter Senate debates over confirmation of Bush's judicial nominees. That faction of the party was furious with McCain and others in a bipartisan group of senators, nicknamed the Gang of 14, who last year blocked a bid by GOP leaders to deny Democrats the right to filibuster judicial nominations.

Conservative lawyers aren't the only ones in the GOP base who view McCain with suspicion. He alienated social conservatives with a 2000 speech harshly critical of the influence of evangelical leaders in the GOP. His support for giving illegal immigrants a path to citizenship, his concern about global warming and his opposition to Bush's tax cuts have earned him ire from many on the right.

On the war, McCain risks alienating another constituency — the majority of Americans who said in exit polls that they wanted U.S. troop strength in Iraq reduced. McCain has been one of Bush's most stalwart supporters of the mission in Iraq, although he has been critical of the way the administration has prosecuted the war.

He has argued that ending instability in Iraq requires a larger U.S. military presence. His advisors contend that whatever political risk McCain runs by taking that position, he would take a bigger risk of looking like a political opportunist if he reversed field and called for withdrawal.

"It's classic McCain," said Mark McKinnon, one of his advisors. "He's always willing to do the unpopular thing. Even people who disagree with him about the troops will feel, 'At least he's being straight with us.' "

This week's U.S. News and World Report also covered McCain's presidential aspirations, noting how McCain's health may pose an additional impediment to securing the nomination:

His health could also be an issue; he would be the oldest person ever to become president, at 72, and he has suffered from a variety of health problems, including melanoma. Successful surgery left him with a deep scar on the left side of his face. He suffered serious injuries, including permanent disability from two shattered arms, when he was shot down in 1967 as a Navy aviator in Vietnam. He was a POW for five years, during which he endured brutal torture at the hands of his captors. Friends say he has no psychic scars from the experience, but there has long been a whispering campaign alleging that McCain has an explosive temper.
I saw McCain at a campaign rally at Fresno State in 2000. I was an adjunct lecturer at the university that year. McCain energized primary and caucus supporters with his whirlwind tour around the country, traveling by bus, which he'd labeled the "Straight Talk Express." His speech at Fresno State was memorable. He spoke in the basketball arena, and his handlers had an awesome floor-to-ceiling American flag drapped across the rear of the auditorium. I'm excited about his run for the White House in '08. It will be interesting, though, to see how well MCain does with the right wing of the party (check this Captain Ed's post for a conservative blog critique of McCain's policy moderation).

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