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What John McCain Needs

Yesterday in South Carolina:

"It was a charade and a joke and a publicity stunt on the part of the Democrats in the Senate, because they wanted to embarrass the president of the United States, my friends."

That clip from Senator McCain campaigning in South Carolina led off FOX News' Special Report with Brit Hume last night and it is exactly the right campaign message the McCain folks need to be hitting -- and hitting consistently, day after day -- on the campaign trail. The quickest way McCain can begin to shore up support and win back disgruntled conservatives is to hit Democrats hard on their tactics regarding Iraq, while at the same time defending the commander-in-chief and the troops. The political reality is potential GOP primary voters hear that line and like John McCain just a little bit more.

Given McCain is already fully locked into the pro-war side of the political debate, it doesn't hurt him as much with general election voters as one may think for a number of reasons. First, there is an assumption in Washington that being "pro-war" on Iraq is a political loser because that is the way the war and in turn public opinion has been trending the last two years, but the future is never a straight line progression of the past and it is certainly not inconceivable that the situation in Iraq improves. Second, so much of the "anti-war" sentiment in the general public revolves around the growing frustration with the prosecution and success of the war as opposed to the rightness or wrongness of the mission, and with the Democrats now in charge of Congress their actions over the next 12 months - and how those actions affect the success of the war -- could very easily change the political dynamics of Iraq irrespective of what happens on the ground.

The point is the general election politics of Iraq are more fluid than the conventional wisdom thinks and if McCain wants to be president he has to win the Republican nomination first, something his campaign didn't understand in 2000, but appears to get this time around. The more sound bites John McCain can get like the one that led off Special Report last evening will go a long way toward repairing his relationship with the Republican base.