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McCain: Still fighting the GOP establishment

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By Rick Howell

John McCain’s rise from the ashes of the Republican presidential race has amazed everyoneee.but him.

Late last summer, with Rudy Giuliani firmly installed as “national frontrunner,” McCain’s campaign was losing money and staffers at an alarming rate. With an accompanying dip in the polls, most observers wrote him off and figured that Iowa and/or New Hampshire would finish him.

Sometimes, politics can be a little bit like sports. There’s a reason that the games actually have to be played; those expected to win often don’t. The same is true of presidential primaries and caucuses.

McCain’s resurgence has several origins. For one, never before has a so-called frontrunner demonstrated a more lousy strategy than Giuliani. Someone forgot to tell him that no major party nominee has ever skipped both Iowa and New Hampshire and still won the nomination. By putting all his eggs in the Florida basket, he had to win or else. It turned out to be “else.”

For McCain, Mitt Romney has essentially been the George W. Bush of this year’s campaign. When Romney gave his “Why I’m a Mormon” speech, he did it at the Bush Presidential Library, with the former president in tow. That was a clear signal that the Bushes favor Romney.

But Romney was rejected in Iowa by the evangelicals who voted for Mike Huckabee. But apparently, the religious right, which doesn’t like Romney because of his Mormon faith, doesn’t have enough influence this year to stop a resurgent McCain. If it did, there’s virtually no way McCain would have won in South Carolina. That’s the place where the “Christian conservatives” savaged him in 2000, and launched the disaster of the Bush presidency. They couldn’t do it this time, and that result spoke volumes.

So, again, as in 2000, it’s John McCain against the Republican establishment, which is essentially the Bush family and its remaining supporters. Not the least among them are the right-wing talk radio hosts, the original Kool-Aid drinkers.

Rush Limbaugh gets hysterical about how nominating John McCain will “ruin the Republican Party.” So does the suave but maniacal Sean Hannity, and the GOP’s own Wicked Witch, Ann Coulter.

Following these extremists is what will really ruin the party, and it’s what has in fact ruined it through the awful presidency of George W. Bush. It turns out that there are actually some moderate Republicans. They may not be very welcome in their own party, but they do exist, and they’re supporting John McCain.

With his millions of dollars and his establishment endorsement, Mitt Romney will soldier on, and it’s possible that by the time you read this he had quite a few triumphs on “Super Tuesday.” If Mike Huckabee was able to win in Missouri, his home state of Arkansas, and perhaps another southern state or two, he’ll be around, too, for a while.

But the real story is John McCain. It may well be that many Republicans have surveyed their field of candidates and concluded that the only one they really have with the least amount of baggage and the best reputation is the senator from Arizona.

They might also be thinking that their party - not to mention their country - would be better off today if it had nominated him in 2000 instead of Bush.

Whether McCain should actually be president is another matter altogethereeas well as the subject of future columns. But right now, I’m enjoying watching John McCain shake up his party again. He deserves better than what he got in 2000..

Rick Howell, a Bedford native, is a member of the Roanoke City Democratic Committee, and can be reached by e-mail at NewCenHowell@aol.com.