Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Early NH Returns and the Republican to Watch

Dixville Notch in New Hampshire's North Country continued its fine tradition of voting just after midnight on primary day and the votes have been counted. McCain lead on the Republican side with 57% of the vote while Obama won an incredible 70% of the vote on the Democratic side.

Oh, and Hillary Clinton failed to win a single vote. Of course, only eight Republicans and ten Democrats voted in Dixville Notch. However, that is beside the point as we must Hear and Obey the momentum coming out of New Hampshire.

It is hard to imagine most of the Republican candidates winning the general election even if they get their party's nomination. Rudy Giuliani still needs to explain his poor judgment in aides and why he had the heroes of 9/11 drive his mistress around NYC. Mitt Romney is the jellyfish of politicians with new opinions as convenient--see today's Washington Post editorial entitled "Mr. Romney vs. Mr. Romney" on immigration for the latest example. Fred Thompson should have kept his well-paying gig on Law & Order instead of hitting the campaign trail.

Mike Huckabee is the Wall Street Journal's worst nightmare--a Republican who not only gives priority to social conservatism but doesn't always toe the line on economics (despite his tax plan). Moreover, unlike his predecessors, Huckabee could win the GOP nomination. His campaign will likely fare much better as it leaves libertarian New Hampshire for the buckle of the Bible Belt in South Carolina.

In contrast, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is a solid conservative and an electable one. His military service and heroism garners him instant respect around the nation and across the political spectrum. He also acts like an adult, giving him a gravitas which is utterly lacking from the rest of the Republican field.

McCain's noted departures from the Bush administration, even as the rest of the Republican Party walked in lockstep, give him the air of a man of conviction. Democrats admire and appreciate his firm stand against torture. Nonetheless, he remains a conservative Republican and broadly acceptable--if not trusted--by the Republican establishment in desperate circumstances.

And for the GOP, these are desperate circumstances. Right now, as their party founders on the shoals of Iraq and the Economy, McCain looks like the only remotely palatable or electable Republican. The Wall Street Journal appears to have figured this out--yesterday they ran one anti-Obama and one pro-McCain piece.

Democrats should also remain concerned as foreign policy will remain a key role in this election. Except for Bill Richardson, none of the leading Democrats has military or foreign policy experience. Even if Americans are tired of being bludgeoned with 9/11 in service to Bush administration, they remain worried about terrorism and threats from abroad.

McCain's embrace of the Iraq War is an albatross but can be cast as loyalty and he has strayed enough from Bush that many will believe he would constitute a real change from the current administration. He looks like a leader. While I don't think he is unbeatable, especially in the current political climate, Democrats should not underestimate McCain in the Fall.