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White House Watch

Has McCain lost some of his luster?
Scripps Howard News Service


November 30, 2006
Thursday PM

WASHINGTON -- Is John McCain shopworn?

The iconoclastic Arizona senator and former Vietnam prisoner of war, who has been Conventional Wisdom's choice to snag the GOP presidential nomination in 2008, is losing clout in some national polls.

After his dynamic run for president in 2000, when he won the hearts of journalists for his sense of humor and tendency to say whatever came into his head on his freewheeling campaign bus tours, McCain seemingly has lost some of his luster.

The respected Quinnipiac University's so-called "thermometer reading" taken after the November elections found that former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani is ahead of McCain in the polling. Asked to say how they "feel" about 20 national leaders, 1,623 registered voters nationwide said they rated Giuliani, a Republican, at 64.2 percent on a scale of 10 to 100. McCain was third at 57.7, and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, a Democrat, was second at 58.8. Democratic New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton came in at 49, ninth on the list, while Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, a Democrat, came in dead last at 39.6.

Clearly, such early polls are just about meaningless, except as chewing gum for the brain. But this indicates that McCain has a lot of work to do.

Far more conservative than the media has portrayed him, McCain worked hard to end the rift with George W. Bush that developed during the 2000 presidential campaign. He also has smoothed over harsh feelings with some conservatives.

So some liberal Republicans, out-of-the-fold Democrats and independents desperate for a star have become wary of McCain, wondering whether he is just another go-along-to-get-along pol.

Americans are increasingly losing confidence in the U.S. mission in Iraq. Still, McCain has been notable for his support of the war. He has demanded that more U.S. troops be sent there.

But the senator is as conflicted as everyone else about what to do in Iraq. He has criticized administration handling of the war, but suggests that a staggered pullout would be a disaster. If there is a pullout, he says, he would prefer an immediate withdrawal. But which is it? And where would thousands more soldiers come from, and how would they be trained and equipped by a military already stretched too thin?

McCain said in a speech after the election that Americans still approve of conservative Republicans, but feel that they lost their principles while governing the country. He noted that hypocrisy is the most obvious of political sins and warned that the "people will punish it."

In a statement about the war in Iraq in October, McCain said he supported the position of the Army chief of staff, Gen. Peter Schoomaker, that 141,000 U.S. soldiers should be kept in Iraq through 2010. He also said he wants the troop strength of the Army and Marine Corps boosted by at least 100,000.

In an address after the election, McCain said, "We're in one heck of a mess in Iraq, and the American people told us loud and clear last week that they are not happy with the course of this war. Neither am I. But let's be clear: That's the limit of what they told us about Iraq and the war on terrorism."

He stressed that Americans did not tell politicians to forget those who were lost on 9/11 or the sacrifices of U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, or to choose "a course that would imperil their mission," or "abandon friends in remote parts of the world to moral monsters like Osama bin Laden or to apostles of hate like the Taliban."

But later McCain added, "What I cannot do is ask (a U.S. soldier) to return to Iraq, to risk life and limb, so that we might delay our defeat for a few months or a year."

McCain is going to run for president. He might be elected. But his message on the key problem of our time - what to do about Iraq - has become garbled. Unless he clarifies what he thinks should be done - and does it soon - Americans' "feelings" for him are not likely to improve.


Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House
and national politics since 1986. E-mail amcfeatters(at)
Distributed to subscribers for publication by
Scripps Howard News Service,

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