In the latest episode of George W. Bush's "be like John McCain" strategy, a campaign press release Tuesday morning unveiled his proposal for limiting money's influence on politics. The proposal is a mixed bag of substantive changes like banning unions and corporations from giving soft money to political parties and ineffectual yet good-sounding ideas like banning lobbyists' donations while Congress is in session. More than anything else the proposal shows how seriously the Bush campaign takes McCain and his signature idea of campaign-finance reform.
Monday was the New York Post's all-politics edition (well, almost; it also ran a column on the Diallo trial). Rod Dreher weighed in on how difficult it must be for McCain to avoid negative advertising in South Carolina while his opponent has filled the airwaves with invective. Andrea Peyser follows the Democrats' pilgrimage to Al Sharpton, and Dick Morris asks whether McCain can keep history from repeating itself.
In Morris' analysis the front-runner always gets the nomination, but he discards the practical interpretation, perhaps because he helped break one cycle in American politics with the "Comeback Kid" in 1992, and offers McCain this advice: Clearly delineate his tax cut and debt reduction plan from Bush's. "McCain has the edge on this issue. Voters want more than just tax cuts." But the real question, Morris says, is "whether he can explain this issue clearly and articulately."
John Podhoretz brings up the rear with the rhetorical question, "Can conservatives surrender some ideological purity for the sake of a candidate who can win?" and promotes McCain as the more positive GOP candidate.
McCain's access campaign, continued
McCain announced Friday that he would cease his negative campaigning. Since then he's tried to reinvigorate his campaign with the idea that his open media access isn't completely governed by his needs as a cash-poor presidential candidate but is also a return to the practice of earlier presidents who were much more open to the press. While the Bush campaign seems to have taken the cue and moderated its on-air attacks, it and its supporting PACs have soldiered on with acrid attacks on McCain's conservative credentials, especially his record on abortion.
The anti-McCain abortion ads and phone calls are focused on conservative audiences that listen to conservative radio commentators like Rush Limbaugh. Needless to say, Bush's campaign is not running the more strident abortion ads widely for fear of offending the Democrats and independents he has suddenly embraced as a core constituencies.
Without money you're nothing
McCain's campaign is just about to reach the federally mandated spending limit in South Carolina. McCain's political director, John Weaver, says, "It's like we are handcuffed to a certain degree and they are free to fire at will.
Speaking of Weaver, the Washington Post's profile reveals him to be the "mini-John," temper and all, of the Straight Talk Express.
The latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, conducted Feb. 11-13, shows Bush pulling ahead of McCain in South Carolina 49 to 42 percent.
The Los Angeles Times poll conducted Feb. 10-12 closely follows Newsweek's Feb. 9-11 poll. The L.A. Times shows Bush slightly ahead of McCain, 42 to 40 percent, while Newsweek shows Bush ahead 43 to 40. Both polls are well within the margin of error.
The Institute for Policy Research at the University of Cincinnati shows Bush ahead of McCain in Ohio 59 to 25 percent. McCain has gained 6 points since the Jan. 19 version of the poll.
On the trail
McCain and Bush are running their hearts out in South Carolina. Both are to make appearances in Irmo, but McCain is veering off to Columbia and Bush to Batesburg-Leesville. Bill Bradley is cruising for votes in Atlantic City, N.J., and Brooklyn, N.Y., while Al Gore sprints through Baltimore, Washington and Raleigh, N.C.