- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 15, 2008

Barack Obama and John McCain are ignoring Hillary Clinton’s decisive win in the West Virginia primary on Tuesday and are instead campaigning against each other. In order to prevail in the general election, the presumptive Republican nominee, Mr. McCain, must unveil a bold and inspiring platform.

The likely Democratic nominee, Mr. Obama, is portraying Mr. McCain as an honorable man of “the past” who will provide a third Bush term. In contrast, Mr. McCain is trying to distinguish himself from the Republican brand — a brand which is tied to a president whose popularity ratings are at an all-time low and whose candidates have just endured crushing defeats in special elections in Illinois, Louisiana and Mississippi. In 2008, the electorate wants change — even in Republican strongholds.

Mr. McCain therefore faces a daunting task. He must contend with the policies of the current administration: Iraq war, soaring energy prices, failed immigration bill, a troubled economy and a housing crisis. He must also energize the Republican base — including appealing to evangelicals and conservatives who are lukewarm or downright hostile to his candidacy — while simultaneously luring independents. Furthermore, the Arizona senator must grapple with a new phenomenon in American politics: Obamamania. This consists of a brilliant, fresh, idealistic and eloquent candidate who has an active following and a record-breaking fund-raising machine.

For months, Mr. McCain has tried to unite the Republican base while assiduously targeting swing voters such as Jews, Hispanics, independents and white, blue collar voters. In courting Jews, Mr. McCain visited Israel in March and has been trumpeting the endorsement of Democratic-turned-independent Sen. Joe Lieberman. To appeal to Hispanics nationwide (whose vote he won handily in Arizona by margins of 65 percent and 70 percent in Senate elections in 1998 and 2004) he unveiled a Spanish Web site on Cinco de Mayo. To bolster his maverick bona fides, he delivered a speech on climate change in which he proposed private initiatives. And in order to woo white, blue collar workers, Mr. McCain has been touring poor, white districts.

The latest polls which present the two contenders as roughly tied in national standing are likely to change in Mr. Obama’s favor once the Democratic nominee is definitively pronounced. Mr. McCain can therefore only win the election if he provides a grand platform. In contrast to Mr. Obama’s slogan of “Change,” Mr. McCain should offer “Victory.” This is an electoral agenda pledging to deliver five victories: in Iraq, over a sluggish economy, in securing energy independence, in sealing the border and for the pro-life movement by reversing Roe v. Wade (through the appointment of strict constructionists to the Supreme Court).

This election cycle has thus far provided drama worthy of a Greek play; only if Mr. McCain presents an audacious electoral platform can he raise the stakes high enough to match the challenge that the Democrats present.