McCain on the march
By Bill Delaney/CNN
May 12, 1999
Web posted at: 6:23 p.m. EDT (2223 GMT)
NASHUA, New Hampshire (AllPolitics, May 12) -- In New Hampshire, an epicenter of U.S. politics due to its first-in-the-nation primary status, Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) is, right now, the man of the political moment.
McCain's support has risen to double digits in New Hampshire in the chase for the Republican nomination for president by cutting to the chase on issues, like his enough-is-enough take on anti-U.S. demonstrations in China.
"If I were the president of the United States -- which, as you know, I have some thoughts about -- I would pick up my phone and I would call Jiang Zemin, the president of China, and say, 'OK, stop now. Stop it now, and it will affect our future relations between our two countries if you insist on continuing this embarrassment,'" McCain said at a recent Rotary luncheon in Manchester.
McCain also is clear on his position on Kosovo: He is still for ground troops if they are necessary to win the war. McCain, a prisoner of war for 5 1/2 years in Vietnam, knows the misery of war more intimately than any candidate from any party. He says he feels increasingly uneasy that his position on a tragedy like Kosovo has done him so much good politically.
"The publicity and the coverage I've gotten on this issue, and I have to tell you that, in some ways, I regret that. (It is) very discomforting, because I believe I have a lot to offer as a candidate of my party, and I believe that what I really have to offer is leadership on a variety of issues and not this one, and I regret very much that we're involved as we are," he said.
Still, whatever got him there, McCain has moved within a hair's breadth of Elizabeth Dole in New Hampshire, with much less name recognition than her. Some analysts say McCain's momentum now makes him front-rujnner Texas Gov. George W. Bush's main competition and others are already predicting that when Bush finally shows up in the state with money and establishment support, New Hampshire's anti-establishment streak could kick in.
"He is now the one challenging George Bush for the nomination," said political consultant Mary Anne March. "The more people know about him, the more they like him. John McCain could pull an upset in New Hampshire, and if he does that then all bets are off."
And in the most front-loaded primary season ever, a win in New Hampshire has never been more important.
One vulnerability for McCain in New Hampshire, at least at this point, is that he is stuck in a deep gender gap. His support among Republican women in recent polling is only about 6 percent, compared to 24 percent for Dole and 40 percent for Bush.
And for all the current glow about McCain -- even among liberals -- he is running very much as a conservative. He is anti-abortion and he opposed the 1994 assault weapons ban.
But with McCain, the whole point seems to be he stands up for what he stands for, and at the moment that just keeps steadily improving his standing.