McCain and the Presidential Albatross
A very big week in presidential politics is on tap. After ceding Kentucky to Hillary Clinton, who has stopped attacking him, Barack Obama will win big in Oregon on Tuesday night and as a result rack up the win in delegates earned in the primaries and caucuses. But, though he drew an astounding 75,000 people to a Portland rally on Sunday afternoon, according to the city fire department, Obama will be nowhere near Oregon on Tuesday night. Instead, he will hold a rally in downtown Des Moines, site of his breakthrough Iowa victory on January 3rd and a key swing state in the general election.
There Obama will note that, but for the existence of the superdelegates (who have been sliding to him for months), he would already have won the Democratic presidential nomination. Following that big rally, Obama will spend the next three days in another general election battleground state, Florida, which should belong to John McCain given its Republican slant and his historic connections there due to his famed Navy service.
You've noticed that little of this is about Hillary. The fact is that she is simply being left behind. I was at Sunday's meeting of the California delegation to the Democratic National Convention. Hillary has more delegates from California than any other state - even her latest putative home state of New York, the second largest state in the union. It was probably the most mellow California delegation meeting I've ever attended.
This will certainly disappoint those on the far right who have been prophesying riots in the streets of Denver, but both the Clinton and Obama camps are coming together in California in a sort of kumbaya behind the most probable nominee, the freshman Illinois senator. It will not, however, surprise those who've been paying attention to these columns.
The Clintons are on a glide path. They have stopped attacking Obama. In this, they are following the advice not only of Democratic elders like Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Al Gore, but also many of their own supporters, who are getting ready to back Obama in order to defeat John McCain.
With regard to President Bush's "appeasement" comments last week in Israel, John McCain, unfortunately for him, not that he had much choice given the state of the conservative base in America, took the bait and defended Bush from the furious counter-attack mounted against him from across the near-majority Democratic Party. "I think it is an unacceptable position," said McCain, "and shows that Senator Obama does not have the knowledge, the experience, the background to make the kind of judgments that are necessary to preserve this nation's security."
Here is the problem with that: Secretary of Defense Bob Gates and Secretary of State Condi Rice have already endorsed such talks. Clearly, with President Bush's agreement. And, in fact, the US is already engaged in such talks. Iraq does not become the victory that John McCain hopes for by January 2013 without an agreement with Iran regarding a settlement of the security situation. In fact, the end to the latest all-out fighting in Iraq was brokered from Tehran.
Frankly, this is exactly what Obama and the Democrats want. Which is why virtually the entire Democratic Party immediately snapped into action to attack Bush and McCain.
John McCain has some big fundamental problems. And until George W. Bush decides to step away from the fray, those problems will only get bigger.
Chief among these problems are his connection to Bush, with his near record-low in job approval, and the fact that some 80% of American voters think the nation is on the wrong track.
Then there are the three straight Republican defeats in special elections in seemingly safe Republican congressional districts. First in former House Speaker Denny Hastert's district, where Obama played a major role in defeating the Republican candidate. Then in races in Louisiana and, last week, Mississippi, in which Republicans tried to run against Obama and his wacky ex-pastor, Jeremiah Wright.
Following the latest defeat, Oklahoma Congressman Tom Cole, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, held a press conference call. "It's evident to me," said Cole, "that a large segment of the American people doesn't have confidence in the Republican Party."
What antidote to this problem does he see? John McCain. "McCain," he said, "is a great asset for us. He runs much ahead of the Republican brand."
Cole said that he thinks that the Democrats are advantaged in the current environment because George W. Bush is president. "We're in a luxury period for them (the Democrats) where a lot of Americans think the Republican Party is running things." He noted that Democrats now have majorities in both the House and the Senate. Of course, the Democrats are stymied by the White House.
How much of an albatross is President Bush?
"President Bush," Cole said, "is a lot like Harry Truman in that he'll look good in the history books. This really isn't about him. It's about where America is going to go in 2009."
Meanwhile, Virginia Congressman Tom Davis, former NRCC chairman, distributed a memo in which he said that Bush is simply "radioactive."
McCain does have a unique brand that might just withstand the strong Democratic tide, given Obama's inexperience. But his effort to push that unique brand, which has major appeal to the all-important independent voters in the center, was undermined by Bush's insistence in reclaiming the spotlight.
When I interviewed one of Obama's biggest backers on Friday, former California state Controller Steve Westly, the Silicon Valley venture capitalist and ex-eBay honcho, I asked him if they were buying Rev. Wright a one-way ticket to a desert island.
But the fact is that Wright is not nearly the problem for Obama that Bush is for McCain. And he's not going anywhere.