The Note: McCain’s Burden


It's a cruel twist of irony for Sen. John McCain: The same man who beat him in 2000 could defeat him again in 2008.

With immigration and Iraq dominating the short-term politics on Capitol Hill and the presidential campaign, President Bush and McCain, R-Ariz., find their political fates intertwined. If the president is to salvage any portion of his agenda, he'll need to start with immigration -- and pray for good news on Iraq. The stakes are even higher for McCain, whose campaign is facing one of those early make-or-break moments with less than three weeks left in the second-quarter money race.

It all comes while McCain faces pressure from the not-yet candidates: former senator Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., is stealing his money men, and former House speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., declared flatly on Friday that McCain can't win the nomination because of the immigration issue. Asked by ABC's George Stephanopoulos yesterday on "This Week" whether he's "dead man walking," McCain hesitated for a moment and replied, "That's what they said this time in 1999." (True, but is that campaign really the model you want to follow, senator?)

McCain advisers see Iraq and immigration as ways to highlight the senator's commitment to principle, as he seeks to recapture the magic of early 2000. But that's a tortuous path to the nomination. Newsweek's Holly Bailey: "There's a thin line between courage and folly. How much do voters really value conviction -- particularly when it runs up against their own beliefs?"

Per the new AP/Ipsos poll, Thompson is quickly grabbing conservative support and is virtually tied with McCain for second place in the GOP field -- and running ahead of former governor Mitt Romney, R-Mass. -- even before Thompson does any heavy lifting on the order of his Leno appearance tomorrow night. That same poll showed former senator John Edwards, D-N.C., well back in fourth in a field that includes Al Gore, with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., holding a 12-point edge over Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.

If the immigration bill died last week, Bush, McCain and company are seeking to bring back the dead. As Bush prepares for a rare visit to Capitol Hill tomorrow, Democratic leaders say they'll return to the measure if -- big word there -- Republicans can agree on a set number of amendments, Carl Hulse reports in The New York Times. "I'll see you at the bill signing," the president said this morning in Bulgaria.

But first the president has to deal with another piece of distracting news upon his welcome to the States. (Between the street-naming and the stamp and the babies named "George," Albania wasn't so bad, was it?) The Senate today will seek to take up a no-confidence vote on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, just when it looked like the drip-drip of damaging revelations about Gonzales' tenure had been shut off.

Democrats almost certainly lack the 60 votes they need to get to a final vote, and Bush says he's ignoring the Senate action anyway. Yet conservative columnist Robert Novak posits that the GOP's "prevailing opinion" is that Bush's loyalties are misguided: He should dump Gonzales, and pardon "Scooter" Libby. "The Gonzales-Libby equation is symbolic of Republican discontent with their president," Novak writes.

Also from the weekend:

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