Thursday, July 12, 2007

Sen. John McCain’s second bid for the White House, unlike his 2000 maverick candidacy, began to fail from the moment he became the perceived front-runner, analysts say.

The implosion of the Arizona Republican’s campaign — first the firing most of his campaign staff two weeks ago because he could no longer pay them and then booting his two top campaign bosses on Monday — was caused more by issues than by the campaign”s overspending, activists say.

McCain’s fall was inevitable, since he seemed intent on alienating base GOP activists and donors with his high-profile support of amnesty for criminal aliens. I know I am not the only party leader who has been scratching his head, said Jon Fleischman, the elected vice chairman of the Southern California Republican Party.

Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado, a fellow Republican presidential hopeful, this week said Mr. McCain’s support of a Senate bill that amounted to amnesty for illegal aliens put the final nail in the McCain campaign coffin.

Mr. McCain is struggling to raise money. Insiders say his campaign owes nearly as much as the meager $2 million that it has in cash on hand, and he lags behind former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani in most polls. This week, he fired much of his top campaign staff in an attempt to get back on track.

Other analysts say the McCain flop had more to do with his having ticked off just about every major constituency by taking the wrong position on immigration, the war and campaign finance, among other things, either before or by the time he had declared for the 2008 nomination.

I don’t think he ever could have been nominated because the majority of the base in his party he dismissed as ideologues and activists — yet they are ones to depend on for the nomination, and they never liked him and wouldn’t have gone for him, even if he had the money to continue the Cadillac campaign he and his top aides were running, said American Conservative Union Chairman David A. Keene.

From the very beginning, veteran observers say, Mr. McCain’s problem was simple. Although he had a significant base of support within the party, he had the lowest ceiling of support of all potential nominees. He started with all the money and voters that he was ever going to get, and his support remained stagnant while other candidates gained and ultimately passed him.

Why would party activists trust a Republican candidate who makes a habit of allying himself with liberal democrats like [Sen. Russell D.] Feingold and [Sen. Edward M.] Kennedy to enact laws hateful to the party faithful? said Lynn Windel, a Republican National Committee member from Oklahoma. John McCain’s support of so-called campaign-finance reform was seen by many Republicans as a direct attack on the constitutional right of free speech. He is now paying the price for his apostasy.

When the campaign started, the common wisdom proclaimed that he was not only front-runner but the inevitable nominee, a perception that attracted major contributors.

However, by redefining himself as something he was not — a mainstream conservative — he undefined himself, said pollster John Zogby. The John McCain who was the maverick independent who had strong support among both independent voters and a good share of conservatives in 2000 was no longer there. He lost his own base and couldn’t be trusted enough among the conservative base.

When the inevitable candidate ceased to be inevitable, he lost the big donors, and those he relied on to raise money weren’t at other the other end of phone anymore.

Then came what Mr. Keene called the humorous irony of the McCain campaign. The Vietnam war hero could no longer afford to be the sort of candidate he led people to think he was going to be — raising lots of hard-dollar maximum contributions from the party establishment early in the campaign.

When the McCain campaign turned from seeking $2,000 donors to $100 or $50 givers, they hit a wall, because he also was the champion of the Senate immigration reform bill, which those small donors didn’t like.

Mr. Tancredo, long a leading congressional proponent of stronger border enforcement, said his presence in the 2008 Republican presidential field helped derail the McCain bandwagon.

To the extent that I believe that I have been somewhat successful in moving this issue and getting it to the point where it is now part of the presidential debate, yeah, I guess I can take some credit, Mr. Tancredo said at a press conference this week. Small, but some.

The best thing about last month’s defeat of the Senate immigration bill, Mr. Tancredo added, is that it means there will never be a President McCain.

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