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McCain Rises from the Dead

By Peter Brown

For those who believe in miracles, there is the legitimate possibility that John McCain could win the Republican presidential nomination. If so, he'll make Bill Clinton's comeback kid of 1992 look like a piker.

Of course, the Republican senator from Arizona needs a series of events to break his way, but things are moving in that direction.

Even the possibility that he could still win the nomination after being given up for dead by some of his own supporters potentially creates a movie-script scenario.

Remember, McCain entered the 2008 presidential race at the head of the pack.

The smart money said even though his maverick ways had alienated lots of conservative activists, in a party that normally nominated the early leader, McCain was the guy in the right spot at the right time.

But there was significant resistance to him in the grass roots, his early campaign was poorly managed and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani zoomed past in the polls while political insiders were knowingly declaring McCain's candidacy as good as dead.

In addition, he was tarred with being the presidential field's perhaps biggest supporter of an unpopular war in Iraq, and then he signed onto immigration-reform legislation that GOP conservatives considered amnesty - a four-letter word in Republican precincts.

By last summer, McCain's campaign was broke, amid predictions of his withdrawal from the race. Reporters were writing canned campaign obituaries to be ready when he actually pulled the plug.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the funeral. He was able to raise enough money to keep going, and the tide began to turn his way.

Now, that's not to say he has regained his front-runner status - far from it. But his nomination is no longer a pipe dream.

Most of all, the Iraq war has been going better. As one of the best-known supporters of President Bush's surge strategy, McCain's constantly blunt rhetoric that he would rather lose a campaign than lose a war is paying dividends, especially among Republicans.

And, as the campaign has worn on, none of the other candidates has closed the sale. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson and Giuliani have all had their opportunities, but failed to break away from the pack. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is now the hot candidate, but remains an unknown to most voters.

Simply put, none of the other contenders has yet to meet the basic standard that Americans require of a president - that they can feel comfortable with a person in the Oval Office deciding whether to send U.S. troops into harm's way.

And, with combating terrorism an overriding issue, McCain's potential strength as a candidate is his public image of independence and experience, especially in national security matters. None of the other GOP contenders share his military background - he was a certified Vietnam hero - much less his years of foreign affairs experience in Congress.

To have a shot at the nomination McCain must win New Hampshire, whose primary he won in 2000 against George W. Bush. And it would be a lot easier for McCain to win New Hampshire if Romney loses Iowa, where Huckabee now leads. If Romney were to win Iowa, his current lead in his neighboring state might be too large for McCain to overcome.

McCain's advantage in New Hampshire is its primary is open to independents - among whom he did very well in 2000 - and in the Granite State that means political moderates. Most states limit their primary voting to party members only.

That's why former Democratic vice presidential nominee and Connecticut independent Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman's endorsement of McCain, and support from both Manchester's Union-Leader and The Boston Globe - publications that rarely agree on anything, could matter.

If McCain, who currently runs second in New Hampshire polls, pulls off New Hampshire, he is well-positioned in South Carolina and Michigan, which come next.

He does not have the financial resources for TV ads as do some of the other candidates. But should he win New Hampshire, his political resurrection will provide the kind of story line that would almost certainly dominate the news coverage and provide the kind of momentum that could carry him to victory.

It would be the kind of story that Hollywood producers dream about.

Peter A. Brown is assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. He can be reached at

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