Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, has fallen from his first place standing in the polls and is enjoying fewer accolades from traditional media than he did in 2000 when his Straight Talk express generated favorable views and praise for his candor.
But with his official campaign kick off this week and a news making conference call with conservative bloggers on Friday, McCain revealed that he is attempting to take matters into his own hands to regain momentum in the race.
Friday afternoon he hosted his third conference call with these political bloggers. Uniquely among the Republican candidates he has committed to holding these calls every two weeks. They provide him with a forum to flash his humor and emphasize national security matters. On this week's call he added something to the mix. He took the opportunity on this latest call to make some news and ding one of his opponents for a gaffe on national security -- an issue he perceives as his strong suit.
The topic was Romney's reported remarks that Osama Bin Laden was "not worth moving heaven and earth spending billions of dollars just trying to catch."
In response to my question as to whether he agreed with that remark McCain responded that "I usually don't comment on other comments" but that this was a matter of national security. He explained that he believed there was evidence that Bin Laden still "exercises some operational control" over the killing of Americans in Iraq and that he remains a "symbol of Al Qaeda and the ideological struggle we're in."
He went on to comment that he agrees with the Israeli philosophy on these issues, namely that if someone "inflicts damage, harm, or death or injury on American citizens we will follow him to the ends of the earth." He continued that "we will get them and devote every effort to bring them to justice."
He proclaimed that Bin Laden was the "quintessence of evil" and then said that his opponent Romney displays "naiveté" in failing to realize Osama Bin Laden's role and that the U.S. will defeat terrorism with the "psychological side" of the struggle. For emphasis he concluded his answer by saying "I disagree [with Romney's remarks] in the strongest terms."
Jennifer Rubin is an independent writer and attorney living in Virginia. She has been among the writers and bloggers Sen. McCain meets with regularly on conference calls.
With this put down of his opponent, McCain demonstrated that he does not intend flagging poll numbers and continued public dissatisfaction with the war deter him from emphasizing his credentials on national security matters. What is more, he may be moving to a campaign strategy that more aggressively points out his opponents' gaffes and weaknesses.
On the remainder of the call McCain addressed a wide variety of issues from Iraq war funding to civil unions and Supreme Court nominees. Faced with conservative questioners he worked to burnish his conservative credentials but also gently distance himself from President Bush on certain issues. He rejected the view that he was now running as the "anti-Bush", declaring that he has always had the same positions, some of which conflicted with the Presidents'.