McCain Media Strategy Extends to Conservative Bloggers

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'.

Regarding Iraq, he identified June as the "drop dead" deadline for extending funding. He implored his congressional colleagues to "move forward" and commented that the $20 million in unrelated spending attached to the latest funding bill was reason enough for the Preisdent to veto it. He also expressed concern that Iraq's Mailiki government needs to "step up to the plate" and prove itself "inclusive and not sectarian." He expressed dismay about reports that the government was considering a two month recess at this critical time.

On gay marriage, an issue on which McCain opposes the idea of a federal constitutional amendment, he reiterated his "federalist" position on the civil union bill recently passed in New Hampshire, saying it was a matter left up to the states. However, he gently appealed to social conservatives by offering that if he were a citizen of New Hampshire he would oppose the legislation.

On energy matters he expressed support for ethanol but emphasized support for nuclear power, commenting that Europeans "seemed to have handled" the problem of nuclear waste disposal and we should as well.

Questioned about whether he was feeling the effects of worsening relations with the media since they embraced him for his "straight talk" in 2000, he replied in matter of fact tones that "I know how to deal with the media" and said that he needed to "be myself" and "keep a sense of humor."

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.

In other comments he repeated his condemnation of pork barrel spending and earmarks, declaring that the budget process is "broken."

On Supreme Court nominees he declared he would have no litmus test and it would be inappropriate to ask a nominee his position "on a specific case." He did indicate support for justices who would strictly interpret the constitution and "not legislate" but also emphasized he would look for real world experience including military and business experience. He agreed this was an important issue, suggesting that we may have "two or three vacancies in the next 4-8 years."

On other matters he declared that the Republicans would be foolish to write off any state but particularly cited California as one needed to be put "in play" for Republicans. He also listed Pennsylvania and even New York as states the GOP could capture.

He declined to second Romney's call to devote a set 4%e of GDP to defense spending, indicating that he likely would increase spending but also find the "smartest guys in America" to analyze and reform defense spending. Lastly, he indicated general support for tax reform ideas including the flat tax, but allowed that each reform idea had its drawbacks and political consensus with Congress and the public was needed for any reform idea to succeed.

So if this call is any indication, McCain will continue to use this method to reach out to the new media to get his message out and, from time to time, take on opponents and lay out his differences with the Administration. Whether that will be enough to recapture his frontrunner status remains to be seen.

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.