McCain's endorsement surge

Bauer and California Secretary of State Bill Jones join McCain as Keyes steals the show in the bickering posturing at the lone South Carolina debate.

Published February 16, 2000 2:13PM (EST)

After having his conservative credentials challenged by George W. Bush, John McCain picked up a key endorsement from Christian conservative Gary Bauer four days before the pivotal South Carolina primary. And the highest-ranking elected Republican official in California, Secretary of State Bill Jones, endorsed McCain Wednesday. Jones, like most other prominent Californian Republicans, had previously endorsed Bush. McCain plans to announce a new slate of Californian endorsements over the next week in anticipation of the March 7 California primary.

Debating through tightly clenched teeth

Tuesday night the three remaining Republican candidates for president went at it under Larry King's guidance in South Carolina. McCain and Bush picked away at each other while Alan Keyes sought to rise above it all. Bush was much more animated than in previous debate appearances, a reflection of how dramatically his campaigning style has shifted since New Hampshire. McCain sought to make a more measured, statesmanlike delivery on most points. Keyes was also much more relaxed than usual. Maybe it was the kitchen-table format that brought out these qualities in the candidates. The New York Times' Frank Bruni summed it up best: Bush and McCain bring out the worst in each other.

The major point of contention between Bush and McCain was the negative advertising war that McCain abandoned Friday. Both candidates chided each other for their recriminations: McCain told Bush he should be ashamed; Bush said, "You did it first." Even though moderator Larry King managed to inject many other issues and Keyes provided some salient commentary on Bush's appearance at Bob Jones University, the debate invariably returned to Bush and McCain fighting for attention.

Full text and video snippets of the debate.

McCain's positivism offensive

After he abandoned his negative ads Friday and endured a weekend of bashing by Bush's negative ads, McCain is trying to turn negative ads into a campaign issue: "I think the American people and especially the people of South Carolina are sick and tired of negative campaigns," he said. As with most things in the McCain campaign the thrust of this tactic returns to his outsider role; he accuses establishment (read: Washington) interests of promoting the ads. As a sign of how serious the McCain campaign takes its positivism, recent campaign fliers distributed at rallies urged people to call radio shows expressing support for McCain but also stipulated: "NO matter what KEEP THE MESSAGE POSITIVE and about McCain. NO bashing Bush or Keyes." McCain's new approach is complemented by Bush's attempt to steal the mantle of reformer with his proposal Tuesday to regulate money in politics and reports that the Bush campaign is burning through its record-high pile of cash in a record amount of time.

Media wracked with McCain adulation

The media's treatment of McCain has been a hotly contested issue. He is famously accessible and friendly toward reporters, which contributes to the tenor of the numerous articles written about him. In comparison, Bush kept a firm distance from reporters in the early stages of the campaign, even announcing at one point that he would hold press conferences only when he decided that he had something to say. Recently more articles critical of McCain have appeared but, as Slate notes, even these are wrapped in a positive spin. Some reporters are unrepentant, Salon's media columnist, Sean Elder, says: "It's the candidate, stupid." Others, like Don Imus, joke about becoming White House communications chief for McCain.

Who's afraid of big bad McCain?

Despite Bush's points about Democrats pulling for McCain and rumors that some Democrats have started their own phone operation in South Carolina, both Democratic candidates have recently shifted some of their attacks to McCain. Fear of McCain is palpable among Democrats because of his character attributes -- which, they fear, would make for a tighter race.

Is the Christian Coalition helping?

While the Washington Post reports that the Christian Coalition's influence on the Republican Party may be waning in South Carolina, that hasn't stopped individual supporters from spreading dirt far and wide. A Bush supporter and Bob Jones University professor has been spreading rumors across the Internet that McCain sired bastard children. According to the New York Post's Rod Dreher, when the professor was confronted by a CNN reporter and asked about the allegations, the professor dodged with "a variation of, 'Well, can you prove that McCain didn't?'" Does Bush need this sort of "help"?

Unions' record year

The AFL-CIO plans to spend $40 million this campaign season in support of candidates who support its agenda. It will target 71 key congressional districts as part of the greater effort to win back Democratic control of the House.

Gore stars for NARAL and criminal trial

Mike may like Bill Bradley but Al Gore has garnered the prestigious endorsement of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League -- this despite his rocky voting record on abortion in the past, which, as late as 1987, elicited a positive evaluation from the National Right to Life Committee. Tuesday Gore also made a star turn in a videotape shown at the criminal trial of John Huang.

Poll positions

The latest Reuters/Zogby tracking poll conducted February 14-15 in South Carolina shows a statistical dead heat with Bush 3 points ahead of McCain 43 to 40 percent.

The last CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, conducted Feb. 11-13, showedBush pulling ahead of McCain in South Carolina 49 to 42 percent.

The Los Angeles Times poll conducted Feb. 10-12 closely followed Newsweek's Feb. 9-11 poll. The L.A. Times shows Bush slightly ahead of McCain, 42 to 40 percent, while Newsweek showed Bush ahead 43 to 40. Both polls were well within the margin of error.

On the trail

George W. Bush and John McCain will be running around South Carolina. Bill Bradley will be in New York state and Al Gore will continue his swing through the South starting the day in North Carolina and ending it in New Orleans.

By Max Garrone

Max Garrone is Salon's Vice President for Operations.

MORE FROM Max Garrone

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