McCain Rallies His Troops for the Battle Ahead

It would be unfair to brand John McCain an old warhorse of the Republican Party. Despite his nearly three decades performing in the Washington circus, McCain has eschewed the role of Washington insider to the degree that he never became a member in good standing of the ruling "clique" in the Senate.

Last night, when the pressure was on and many were questioning his heart and desire, John McCain delivered a fine speech, perhaps his best ever in front of a large gathering. He was passionate, personal, and feisty; not an old warhorse but a young stallion rearing up on his hind legs and fighting for his legitimacy as a genuine contender against the well-heeled, well-organized Obama campaign.

In this, he pulled off a triumph. While polls will be a little flipsy over the next 10 days or so, most analysts that I have read and my own sense of the matter suggest that it is a brand new race today. A repeat of 2000 and 2004 is in the offing, with both sides fighting for every state, every vote down to the wire.

As for the speech itself, I agree with Karl Rove, who thought it "workmanlike" and deserving of being called McCain's best effort. But stacked up against his running mate's barnburner of an address, and even Rudy Giuliani's red meat special, it fell a little short.

Nevertheless, if a speech's success is measured in what the candidate was trying to accomplish rather than its rhetorical structure or impassioned delivery, then McCain can consider his effort a triumph. He carefully laid out his ideas for reform (we're "behind" the globalization curve and must catch up in many areas), made a case that his experience in a dangerous world was head and shoulders above Obama's, and lastly, talked at length about what his captivity gave him.

I had never heard John McCain go on at such length about his captivity. In past speeches, he has used little snippets from being a POW as allegorical devices or parables to highlight a specific point about policy.

But this was very different -- very personal, searing remembrances of a time I am sure he would like to forget. The effort showed on his face as he wasn't exactly flippant in talking about the torture and mistreatment, but he wasn't maudlin about it either. This time, he used his incarceration as a stunning justification for his run for the presidency.