McCain’s Moment

Lydia Saad

With Rudy Giuliani fading, Mitt Romney wounded, and Mike Huckabee fighting an asterisk next to his Iowa victory that reads, "can't be repeated elsewhere," John McCain's campaign for the Republican nomination is looking more and more viable. A strong showing in New Hampshire would almost certainly catapult him into real contention for the nomination.

As a result, my guess is the Republican establishment (national party leaders, prominent Republican governors, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and anyone dispatched by the RNC to appear on talk TV) are taking a hard look at McCain as the best alternative to Giuliani in terms of electability. Doing so would mean getting past their long-term skepticism of McCain's conservatism and bad blood left over from the 2000 campaign. However, the practicality can't be ignored.

McCain is the only Republican candidate other than Giuliani to have shown he can beat either Clinton or Obama in the general election according to trial heat surveys by Gallup and others. For instance, in December several national polls showed McCain beating Clinton by 2 to 6 points, while Romney and Huckabee trailed Clinton by as much as 10 to 11 points. In numerous head-to-head polls between various Republicans and Barack Obama in December, McCain was the only Republican who beat or tied Obama in any of them.

Some of McCain's electoral superiority can be chalked up to his higher name ID -- something Huckabee and Romney might have caught up with him on since Iowa. However, McCain's image has always included significant crossover appeal with independents and Democrats. Romney and Huckabee haven't done anything to foster a similar level of bipartisan support.

Given all this, it will be fascinating to see how the establishment plays its hand vis-à-vis McCain over the next few days.

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