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Inside Politics

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Not forgotten

"John McCain's campaign fell into disarray [last] week, kicked off by the news it had raised a scant $24 million so far. Mark these money woes down to any number of problems, but don't entirely discount the McCain-Feingold effect," Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberley A. Strassel writes.

"Let's stipulate that most of the good senator's troubles stem from high-profile policy disagreements he's had with his own base. He's tweaked noses on global warming and slapped faces on immigration. His admirable decision to stand strong on Iraq has been undermined by his tendency to stand weak on national security issues such as interrogations and enemy combatants. And economic conservatives just don't trust a guy who won't admit that cutting taxes is good," the writer said.

"Yet while each of these issues has undoubtedly taken its financial toll, Mr. McCain has labored under yet one more burden: McCain-Feingold. He was the prime author of that 2002 law, which took direct aim at his own party and its activists, making it harder for them to collect money, register voters and voice opinions about candidates. It left the very people so vital to a campaign in its early stages — those who write checks, knock on doors, turn out for primaries — furious with him. Talks with party officials and activists ... suggest that hostility remains and has played into his money difficulties.

" 'For most conservatives, campaign finance is conceptually pretty easy; they saw it as targeting them,' says Bradley Smith, former chairman of the Federal Election Commission, now a professor of law at Capital University and chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics. 'I've been surprised at how angry people were, and remain, over that law.'

"Don't underestimate just how many Americans he means. Huge and influential interest groups such as the National Rifle Association and the National Right to Life Committee viewed McCain-Feingold as a direct threat to their missions. Both were among the first to sue over parts of the law, including provisions barring ads 30 to 60 days before primaries and elections.

"Both also went out of their way to inform their memberships about McCain-Feingold's threats to free speech and activists' ability to target politicians who support gun laws or abortion."

McCain's options

"First there were four, and now there are three — three top-tier GOP presidential candidates, at least if you count a guy who still isn't officially a candidate. Sen. John McCain now has the second tier all to himself," Stuart Rothenberg writes in Roll Call.

"The shake-up at the McCain presidential campaign isn't as much an answer to the Arizona senator's problems as a reflection of the campaign's multiple difficulties. Let's be clear: The McCain campaign's burn rate on funds was too high, but that's not why the Arizona Republican's prospects have slipped," Mr. Rothenberg said.

"Given McCain's cash, his poll numbers and the state of his campaign, he has few options, according to one veteran political strategist with whom I talked, except to 'park himself in New Hampshire, shut down his operations elsewhere and try to make a comeback in a state that he won eight years ago.'

"Regardless of whether you agree with that assessment, it's quite clear that McCain doesn't have any appealing options to choose from now. Still, if you are the Arizonan, making your second bid for the GOP nomination and beginning this race as the early favorite, why not hope that Republican voters — much as Democratic voters did in 2004 — reassess the candidates early next year and give the initial front-runner a second shot?"

Bush and his aides

"White House officials were pushing the line last week that President Bush would soon take a positive new tack in defending the war in Iraq. He'd talk about what Iraq would look like after the 'surge' of American troops in Baghdad had succeeded and the soldiers were beginning to come home," Fred Barnes writes in the Weekly Standard.

"Peter Baker of The Washington Post was told Bush 'will launch a campaign emphasizing his intent to draw down U.S. forces next year.' The president would deliver his 'vision for the post-surge,' an aide told Baker. Indeed, I talked to two White House officials who mentioned the plan for Bush to stress the bright future in Iraq rather than the dimmer present," Mr. Barnes said.

"This clever scheme lacked one important ingredient, the participation of Bush himself. He was supposed to play up the post-surge in a 77-minute speech in Cleveland. He failed to, except to note in passing that, with enough troops to secure Iraq, 'we can be in a different position in a while.' This was the same day that Baker's story ran. A White House official said the president might have dropped emphasis on the post-surge era from his speech out of annoyance over the leak to Baker. Or, since he was speaking from scribbled notes, he might just have forgotten.

"Two days later, Bush had a prepared text for his opening remarks at a press conference. Once more, the aftermath of the surge got short shrift. The closest he came was this comment: 'When we start drawing down our forces in Iraq, it will be because our military commanders say the conditions on the ground are right, not because pollsters say it will be good politics.'

"I recount this episode because it makes a simple point: Bush's aides may be eager to soften his message on Iraq, but the president isn't. Another way to put it — exaggerating a bit — is that his aides were fearful of political repercussions and he wasn't."

'Sickening the soul'

Standing before a church congregation that has witnessed inner-city violence firsthand, Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama said yesterday that more must be done to end a social ill that is "sickening the soul of this nation."

Mr. Obama told churchgoers at the Vernon Park Church of God on Chicago's South Side that too many young lives are being claimed by violence and more must be done to combat the problem.

"From South Central L.A. to Newark, New Jersey, there's an epidemic of violence that's sickening the soul of this nation," the Illinois senator told the crowd. "The violence is unacceptable, and it's got to stop."

Nearly three dozen Chicago students have been killed this year, according to Chicago Public Schools. Mr. Obama said that figure is higher than the number of Illinois serviceman who have died in Iraq in 2007.

"We need to express our collective anger through collective action," Mr. Obama said.

He said the government needs to permanently reinstate an assault-weapons ban and close regulatory loopholes that protect unscrupulous gun dealers, the Associated Press reports.

He also said government should support and fund more after-school programs to keep children off the streets. But some of the burden must also be shouldered by residents who need to do more to raise and protect at-risk children, he added.

Greg Pierce can be reached at 202/636-3285 or gpierce@washingtontimes.com.

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