Bailey: A Superstitious McCain

Here's NEWSWEEK's Holly Bailey on the "guarded optimism" of Republican frontrunner John McCain.

Last week, John McCain was the epitome of confidence. Speaking to reporters on board his campaign plane en route to Chicago last Friday, the Arizona senator spoke at times as if he already had the GOP presidential nomination in the bag. He talked of uniting the party and of how he'd challenge the Democratic nominee, whoever that is. "I think it will likely be over on Tuesday," McCain predicted, acknowledging he "felt a sense of momentum." "I assume I will get the nomination of the party."

It was a surprisingly bold statement for a candidate whose superstitions about the campaign are well known. Throughout the race so far, McCain has gone out of his way not to seem too confident in a win-rejecting advice from his top aides to forcefully seize the mantle of Republican frontrunner. Even when the crowds and the momentum seemed to be on his side in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida, McCain was a bundle of nerves, refusing until the last possible moment to accept that he was really going to win. "You know me," McCain often says. "I am just too superstitious about this stuff."

Indeed, McCain's air of confidence over the weekend proved to be only temporary. Speaking to reporters after a rally Monday morning in Boston, Mitt Romney's backyard, the old overly-cautious McCain was back, scolding a reporter who had dared to suggest the senator had been so bold as to suggest he'd lock up the nomination on Super Tuesday. "I am not predicting that," McCain insisted. "I am not predicting, I am not predicting... I am guardedly confident that we can do well. [But] I've seen more than one election go against what the polls show."

Still, his ground game suggests he's managing to keep his darkest fears at bay. While Romney has been campaigning almost frantically in the final days before Super Tuesday, crisscrossing the country from east to west and back, McCain has taken a more relaxed route. On Saturday, his busiest day, McCain hit three states-Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee-before ending up in the northeast, where he has spent the last two days. On Sunday, he held a rally in Connecticut. On Monday, he held two rallies, in Boston and near Trenton, New Jersey, before ending up in New York City, where he held a press conference and a Tuesday morning rally outside the Today Show studios in Rockefeller Center.

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