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Why McCain has a good hand

  • Story Highlights
  • John McCain won the Republican nomination in the first week of March
  • When campaign began more than a year ago, Republicans were near written off
  • But the close Democratic contest gives McCain time to rally the Republicans
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By CNN's Jonathan Mann
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(CNN) -- There is an old American card game that a lot of gamblers like. It's called Stud Poker and there isn't much to it.

Senator John McCain

Republican John McCain has been dealt some strong cards in the race for the White House.

The players sit at a table, the dealer hands out cards, and they just bet.

They don't draw more cards or exchange the ones they have. The real skill resides in their knowing how to ride their luck and wager their money.

Arizona Senator John McCain is running for president like a man playing Stud and doing pretty well.

McCain won the Republican nomination in the first week of March and has faded from the front pages ever since.

He's almost just sitting back, collecting cards, and here is what he's been dealt:

The War: McCain is a steadfast supporter of the US presence in Iraq. He argued for a surge in American troops long before President Bush finally ordered it. A new poll has found that a majority of Americans now believe the US will ultimately succeed in Iraq. That's a strong card for McCain.

The Economy: McCain hasn't offered a new economic plan. The US is on the edge of recession and it's the most important issue in the campaign but he hasn't pushed any memorable ideas to address it, beyond broadly backing current Bush administration policies. He's just holding that card and it's not helping him.

The Democrats: The self-destructive contest underway inside the Democratic Party is his best card, his "Ace in the hole." The battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination probably has months left to run. That's plenty of time to exhaust the party, alienate voters and leave John McCain alone to rest, raise money and rally the Republicans.

McCain hasn't won yet -- far from it.

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But when the election campaign started a little more than a year ago, the Republicans were almost written off. Iraq, the economy and widespread displeasure at the current Republican in the White House put them far behind in the polls.

Now, the polling we've done at CNN suggests McCain would be in a statistical tie with either Clinton or Obama. The Democrats have lost their lead.

John McCain is a seasoned politician who knows how to play this game. And he's drawn a pretty good hand. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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