The Green Papers Commentary

John McCain's Quixotic Quest for the Presidency
January 18, 2000

"The Green Papers" Staff

As I write this piece, we are less than a week from the first actual recording of the true numerical support among those who show up to participate in caucuses and vote (well... sort of!) for the various contenders for President- in both major parties. Oh, yes, I- as the one who has done a fair share of the research on the delegate selection process for "The Green Papers"- am more than well aware that not a single National Convention delegate, in either party, will be chosen in Iowa's precinct caucuses next Monday (24 January), the singular event of that evening (all due apologies to you Alaska Republicans and your straw poll which will have about as much to do with directly impacting upon the GOP Presidential Nomination as Iowa's straw poll last August did; at least, Iowa's caucuses will record binding votes [for precinct delegates to the next-tier conventions] which will- eventually [key word, there: eventually!]- lead to the selection of National Convention delegates)- that the Iowa caucuses will move no presidential contender even one tick closer to his party's presidential nomination next Summer. Yet even I- much like a sports fan come Opening Day (when everyone starts off even- with "0" in all of the statistical columns plastered on the agate page of the paper)- now find myself getting caught up in my looking forward to the prospect of beginning to- finally!- answer those questions which have hung over the impending presidential campaign these last several months. Gentlemen, start your engines!... Let the Games begin!!

On the Republican side of the equation, which will be the subject of this piece (I have already addressed the Democratic side in my 2 November commentary "NO LONGER A MONEY PLAYER- Why Bill Bradley Won't Be The Democratic Presidential Nominee"; nothing which I have seen take place in the 2 1/2 months since I first penned [OK... TYPED!] that particular piece has changed my mind about its basic premise. Former Senator Bradley has to win BIG in the primaries- and consistently so [not just in, say, New Hampshire- but throughout the entire pre-Convention period!]- in order to take the Democratic nomination from Vice President Gore: with Gore's support among the Democratic Party hierarchy and the hard-core of that party [the unions, the traditional heavily Democratic ethnic minorities, etc.] virtually guaranteeing him the vast majority of the nominally unpledged PLEO delegates (some 18.5 percent of the total), I just don't see Bradley overcoming that formidable hurdle!!), the race has sharpened into, essentially, a battle between Texas Governor George W. Bush and Arizona Senator John McCain (with the man identified as "millionaire publisher Steve Forbes" [but- hell!- aren't they ALL millionaires??!!] looking to replace McCain as the one stalking and trailing Bush should the Arizona Senator falter early on). It is a battle the start of which has been, in a sense, postponed for a week and a day, as Senator McCain has decided to forgo confronting Governor Bush in the first event of the GOP pre-Convention calendar: the Iowa caucuses.

This is a wise decision on the part of the Arizona Senator, for Governor Bush has a distinct advantage over McCain in terms of more money and better organization- all the product of Bush being viewed as the inevitable nominee, primarily due to his being the choice of a very large share of the Republican Party hierarchy nationwide-both of which which will serve him in good stead come Iowa's caucuses. The ground-swell of support fanned by the GOP's higher muckety-mucks will almost certainly bring the Bush supporters out to the precinct caucuses in force; just about the only other GOP presidential contender who might be able to come close to matching the Texas Governor in Iowa would most likely be Gary Bauer, whose denizens of the so-called "Christian conservative" movement will be motivated just about as much as, if not more than, the party faithful in the Hawkeye State come caucus time. It is this support by the party organization as an institution which has allowed Governor Bush to continue his rather risky strategy (though admittedly in lower-key form as we get closer to "crunch time" in Iowa and then New Hampshire) of declaring that he is, after all, THE front-runner for the Republican Presidential Nomination and doing everything short of daring, more or less, any of the other GOP contenders to beat him to the 1,000-plus delegate mark which will guarantee that prize.

Senator McCain's strategy is no less risky, although- on paper, at least- it is relatively well thought out, considering what he is up against. Recognizing that a first-tier caucus does, in fact, reward those who are best able to get out an organized bloc of voters and that he- unlike Governor Bush- does not have the support of the GOP hierarchy in Iowa (let alone anywhere else!) which would be needed in order for him to do well in that state's caucuses, McCain has decided to concentrate, instead, on a state where the voting of the people actually directly allocates National Convention delegates: New Hampshire's primary eight days later (Tuesday 1 February). The problem for the Arizona Senator is that this decision has forced him to, basically, put all his eggs into one basket.

For John McCain now must outright WIN the New Hampshire GOP primary; anything less than this is a victory for Governor Bush, not just mathematically but politically (for once!) as well. Bush, probably sensing this, has been able to keep up that risky "I'm the front runner, go ahead and beat me if you can" approach, even while knowing that- should HE lose New Hampshire- this particular strategem of the Texas Governor's will be very difficult to live down. But, even should he lose New Hampshire, don't expect Bush to drop out of the race (especially should he be coming into New Hampshire following a big numerical victory over the other GOP contenders in Iowa): there is just too much ill feeling about McCain among a Republican power elite which has early on decided to take a ride on the Texan's horse for them to just fold up the tent and concede the presidential nomination to McCain.

And that is the crux of Senator McCain's problem: even should he win New Hampshire, the next MAJOR event is South Carolina's primary on Saturday 19 February (the party-run primary in Delaware on Tuesday 8 February being a relatively minor event on the GOP calendar which McCain is passing on just as he is Iowa's caucuses) and 2 1/2 weeks is plenty of time for the Bush forces- with the connivance of the national GOP leadership- to regroup after a New Hampshire loss (whereas, should McCain be the one who loses New Hampshire, there will be little- if anything- for him to regroup WITH!). As a result, McCain has to also win South Carolina and then the primary in his native Arizona three days thereafter (Tuesday 22 February), along with putting forth a good showing on his part in Michigan that same day, in order to be considered a viable option to Governor Bush for the Republican nomination; anything less than this and, even with a win in New Hampshire, McCain's long-shot bid for the Presidency is all but over.

And, of course, with a plethora of primaries then coming along during the first two weeks in March (and the Republicans still allowing "winner-take-all" in the vast majority of these: a system through which one can just nip another candidate at the post in the popular returns and still reap the lion's share- if not all- of a state's National Convention delegates), it will only get that much tougher for Senator McCain should his candidacy manage to survive past Leap Year Day! Don Quixote had things much more in hand, I would think!!


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