McCain 3.0

By Jennifer Parker

Jul 3, 2008 9:03am


Maybe it’s something about the July sun that gets the Arizona going in Sen. John McCain.

Almost exactly a year after retooling his campaign when it hit rock-bottom, there’s a new McCain makeover. Start with a new campaign honcho, sprinkle in some outside help, top it off with a lucky break that allows him to return home like an action hero, hostages released — and all of a sudden you’ve got a new narrative for a campaign that desperately needs it.

That’s the focus of today’s Note: This series of mostly independent events contributes to the ability of the McCain campaign to start telling a different story, and perception can easily become reality.

Mostly it ensures that people like me in the mainstream media have a new story to tell; watch, for instance, for stories that focus on the newfound “discipline” of the campaign under Steve Schmidt, a straight-from-central-casting (does every story on him have to mention his shaved head and barrel-chested build?) bulldog of an operative who has wide respect among both Democrats and Republicans.

McCain was getting close to a dangerous place in the campaign. Polls have had him down narrowly yet consistently (and sometimes not narrowly). All the energy has seemed to be with Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill. More worrisome still, Republican operatives have been buzzing about the McCain campaign’s problems in public — in the type of second-guessing/grumbling that John Kerry grew too used to in 2004.

So here comes the new McCain, again. Last year around this time, bankrupt and flailing, he ditched the Cadillac for a Neon (or, more precisely, a battered bus) and got back to what fueled his original rise — more direct voter contact, less of an entourage, more McCain, less filter.

The parallels with what’s happening now have their limits. He only has four months before the general, compared to the six months he had before the primaries. There’s far less time for direct voter contact, and far more voters to contact. It all happens at once, nation-wide, this time; there’s no New Hampshire to boost him back into the game, living room by living room.

And Obama still has the enthusiasm, the money, the sense of history — all significant obstacles for the GOP this year.

But suddenly, operatives all around Washington and beyond who’ve been looking for a competitive race have new justifications for seeing one. As I said, perceptions become realities.

– Rick Klein

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