McCain’s Path to Victory

NBC News political director Chuck Todd outlines how John McCain could, despite problems with the Republican brand, win the White House against either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. He makes several key points:

  • McCain is perhaps the only Republican who could win in this cycle. (Indeed, as some GOP staffers have noted, he’s running 15 points ahead of the “generic Republican” in private polls.)
  • Even “if he were to lose the race he should be able to save a few Senate seats (say 2-3) and a handful of House seats (perhaps 10).”
  • Despite conventional wisdom, the continuing fight between Clinton and Obama is bad for McCain.
  • McCain “will run two very different campaigns depending on whom he faces.”

The last two points are especially critical:

Currently polls show McCain either narrowly ahead or even with both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. It is impressive considering how poorly the GOP, and specifically the president, are viewed by the public.

But it is a faux lead. If the de facto Democratic nominee is clear within the next 4-6 weeks, that person will see a poll bounce. And according to GOP pollster Steve Lombardo, it could be one heck of a bounce, like post-convention. He anticipates the Democratic candidate will move up 10 points once the primary race is over.

Exactly right. Just as Republicans who favored other candidates in the primaries rallied to McCain after absorbing the reality, so will supporters of the loser mostly rally for the Democrats. While some Clinton supporters will switch to McCain, or sit out, if Obama wins and vice-versa, those numbers are likely to be negligible. The current polls reflect passion for candidates who still have a change; ultimately, partisans will revert to form.

He will either be the steady hand in uncertain times vs. Obama, or he’ll be the breath of fresh air and openness in a campaign against Clinton.

[…]

If Clinton is the foe, McCain will be using a target map that looks very similar to the one George Bush pursued in ’00 and ’04. The emphasis will be on the Midwest and West, as he may be able to pick off a few blue states like Oregon or Wisconsin.

If Obama is the foe, McCain’s geographic emphasis is likely to shift East to the Rust Belt, Michigan and Pennsylvania in particular, and even to the Northeast.

There are credible paths to victory for McCain regardless of his opponent. But the easier path — or the more comfortable one for McCain — appears to be a campaign against Clinton.

Then again, it’s looking exceedingly unlikely Clinton will pull off the comeback.

Obama is going to be the nominee, barring some major development. His charisma, youth, and energy is going to be hard to run against, especially with a public tired of eight years of a Republican president, tired of a war with no end in sight, and worried about their ability to make ends meet. McCain’s only real advantage will also be his greatest liability: His decades of experience/he’s older than the hills.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2008, General, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Elmo says:

    Obama …. His charisma, youth, and energy

    vs

    McCain’s only real advantage will also be his greatest liability: His decades of experience/he’s older than the hills.

    I wasn’t in love with Johnnie Mac, but have slowly warmed up. And yes, he does indeed have some personality, that I would not discount.

    Signed: Partisan Hack.

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    I suspect that the feather-light treatment that Sen. Obama has received until rather recently from the press will work against him. After his formal nomination he’ll be subject to a lot more scrutiny, all in a shot, than he’s received in his entire life.

    It might be a very short honeymoon.

  3. It will be interesting to see how well Big Media’s love for The Maverick holds up once he’s running against a Democrat rather than a Republican, especially a Democrat that large sections of Big Media swoon over.

  4. Magnus says:

    I’m not a big McCain fan by any stretch but I am a lot more comfortable with “old as the hills” than “empty-suit.” I think that closer scrutiny post-convention will expose the Obamessiah for the charlatan that he so clearly is.

  5. Bithead says:

    I wasn’t in love with Johnnie Mac, but have slowly warmed up

    I have yet to ‘warm’ to him… if I ever will… but have decided that he’s by far a better choice than either Clinton or Obama.

  6. Hal says:

    His decades of experience/he’s older than the hills.

    Well, there’s that and the fact that he’s literally grafted himself to Iraq.

    I suspect that the feather-light treatment that Sen. Obama has received until rather recently from the press will work against him.

    Perhaps, but then if the press has a feather-light treatment of Obama, how do we classify it’s treatment of McCain? So in addition to his experience and having the Lieberman seal of bipartisanship, I think we can pretty much classify the bended knee upon which the Press reports about McCain as a significant advantage regardless of who he runs against.

  7. cian says:

    on the most critical issue of our times- the war and should we remain or start to pull out- the country disagrees with McCain’s position in huge numbers, and this is unlikely to change.

    The Democrats’ message will be simple, if you believe a change is needed, you need to vote democrat, otherwise you are voting for a third Bush term.

    With McCain in the white house, the next six months will feel like a hundred years.

  8. Dave Schuler says:

    if the press has a feather-light treatment of Obama, how do we classify it’s treatment of McCain?

    Bored, I think.

  9. Hal says:

    Bored, I think.

    touché

  10. NHCt says:

    A major problem for McCain is that the media have been even more favorable to him than Obama. He’s gotten lazy in front of a microphone, because his gaffes always went unreported. That’s starting to change and it’s only going to get worse. The GOP needs to be very worried about this. For someone who’s been in the limelight for so many years, most Americans know bupkus about him. The Dems are in as great a position to define him as the GOP with Obama. It’ll be interested to see who comes out on top.