The Clinton strategy -- for McCain?

Two writers for the conservative National Review exhort the presumptive Republican nominee to adopt Hillary Clinton's strategy in campaigning against Barack Obama.

Published July 21, 2008 10:15PM (EDT)

Republicans have been grumbling for a little while, saying that John McCain's campaign is adrift. McCain shook up his staff earlier this month in response to the concerns. Now, a leading conservative magazine is suggesting McCain do what would seem unthinkable for a Republican: Imitate Hillary Clinton.

In a new article in the National Review, Rich Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru argue that McCain's campaign is "likely to fail" on its current course.

"If [McCain] wants to win, he has to leave his comfort zone. He should take a page from Hillary Clinton. She did not, of course, defeat Obama, but she road-tested a strategy that cost him support among crucial constituencies -- and that strategy is even better suited to McCain's general-election run than it was to her primary campaign," the pair write.

The strategy involves following Clinton's playbook from the latter half of her primary run: painting herself as a working-class warrior, vigorously attacking Obama and highlighting his inexperience on national security (remember the 3 a.m. phone call ad?). Like Clinton, Lowry and Ponnuru believe McCain can peel away whites without college degrees, and some Hispanics, from Obama.

In a way, the advice makes sense. Clinton's strategy was effective against Obama after February. She rolled up important victories in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Texas that left Obama's campaign off balance, and Obama managed to hold her off largely because he had already built up a narrow cushion of pledged delegates.

The question is whether McCain could effectively deploy such a strategy. This seems to be where the article is on shakier ground. McCain has a fighter's temperament like Clinton and can easily contrast his national security experience with Obama's, but he has an Achilles' heel. As an unnamed political reporter argued to the Politico's Jonathan Martin, McCain lacks the Clinton brand when it comes to the economy. Remember, Clinton surged late in the primary season in large measure because she seemed able to connect with working-class voters' pain on the economy better than Obama did. McCain -- by his own admission -- is no economic expert, and his policies, especially on taxes, are slanted more toward the wealthy than the working class. Then there's the fact that, by a solid margin, voters say they trust Democrats more than Republicans to handle the economy. No matter how many shots he takes, it will likely prove difficult for McCain to channel his inner Hillary in this regard.

By Justin Jouvenal

Justin Jouvenal is an editorial fellow at Salon and a graduate student in journalism at New York University.

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2008 Elections Barack Obama Hillary Rodham Clinton John Mccain R-ariz. National Review