DÉJÀ VU ALL OVER AGAIN!
McCain comes up for air a second time
Wednesday, February 23, 2000
RICHARD E. BERG-ANDERSSON
What a difference three days make... or, then again, what little- if any- difference three weeks make! It all depends on how you look at it (the very basis of campaign "spin"). 72 hours after John McCain looked like a big loser as a result of his loss in South Carolina's primary last Saturday [19 February], he once again looks like a big winner as a result of his double-barreled victory in Arizona and Michigan on Tuesday [22 February] and we are all right back to where the race for the Republican presidential nomination was only three weeks ago after the Arizona Senator's big win in New Hampshire!!
Just as I noted in my previous Commentary [BUSH BACK IN THE SADDLE AGAIN... McCAIN BACK TO SQUARE ONE, from 20 February], South Carolina made George W. Bush once again the GOP front-runner while pushing McCain back into the position he was in prior to New Hampshire three weeks earlier, that of a man in search of a primary win. Now, after McCain's second big night of this Republican pre-Convention campaign, we are again seeing the Texas Governor as a wounded (though it's only a flesh wound, folks!) front-runner with the Arizonan as a challenge to be reckoned with- though (despite his own campaign's "spin") still not again quite the viable alternative for the big prize waiting in Philadelphia come the end of this July going into early August.
Once again, we will next be facing a relatively minor event on the GOP pre-Convention calendar [the Republican primary in Virginia come Tuesday 29 February, mirroring the Delaware GOP primary a week after New Hampshire (although McCain will certainly have to make more of an effort in the Old Dominion than he had made in the First State)] and, once again, the REAL test of wills between Governor Bush and Senator McCain will come on Tuesday 7 March when a multiplicity of what we had going into South Carolina last weekend- not just figuratively, but literally as well (what with all those primaries in the South- the heartland of George W. Bush country!)- will become the focus of our attentions.
There are, of course, SOME salient differences between where we were three weeks ago and where we are now in the aftermath of both Arizona and Michigan. First of all, Senator McCain is probably better known as a candidate coming out of his wins in Arizona and Michigan than he was either going into- or, for that matter, coming out of- New Hampshire. Secondly, the Arizona Senator has, for the first time in this pre-Convention Republican campaign, actually pulled ahead of Governor Bush in the delegate count (our own estimate on "The Green Papers" currently has the Arizonan at 96 delegates pledged to 67 for the Texan), an important milestone for McCain's viability as a real threat to what at one time was presumed to be Bush's nomination for the asking!
Nevertheless, there is a downside to the Arizona Senator's primary successes this time round: his victories on 22 February just don't quite have the impact his New Hampshire drubbing of Governor Bush had had. McCain's poor showing in South Carolina (which, after all, WAS open to non-Republicans, just as Michigan was) shows that the Arizona Senator has his work cut out for him over the next two weeks: that- as I wrote in a Commentary of mine posted well over a month ago [NOT JUST CHASING WINDMILLS, BUT TACKLING THEM HEAD ON!, from 18 January]- "it will only get that much tougher for Senator McCain should his candidacy manage to survive past Leap Year Day" and, as I wrote in yet another of my Commentaries- penned in the immediate aftermath of McCain's big victory in the Granite State three weeks ago [McCAIN: 1 DOWN, 2... MAYBE 3... TO GO, from 2 February]- "McCain's performance in South Carolina... will, indeed, say much about his potential in early to mid-March".
In the end, the voting on Tuesday 22 February has- once more- allowed
the Senator from Arizona to survive long enough to fight another day
(that day being Tuesday 7 March). His big victories this night, however,
have done little- if anything- to change the essence of the two
quotations from myself in the previous paragraph! But what a long,
strange trip it's already been... and will continue to be (at least
until Wednesday 8 March, the day after the next big GOP contests will
have shaken out a large chunk of pledged Republican National Convention