Here's Holly Bailey reporting from John McCain's Wisconsin victory party (in Columbus, Ohio). Without a real rival for the Republican nod--sorry, Mike Huckabee--the Arizona senator is using the windows of free, uninterrupted air time after his primary wins to attack the man he's expecting to face next November--Barack Obama. If his past two performances are any indication, McCain plans to focus his fire on Obama's "inexperience" and two most controversial foreign policy ideas--his willingness to meet with leaders critical of America and carry out strikes against terrorists in Pakistan. (Hillary Clinton also takes issue with Obama's positions here.) Obama's response? “John McCain’s remarks tonight shows why he’s offering nothing more than a third term of George Bush’s policies," said Obama spokesman Bill Burton in an email to reporters. "More fear-mongering, more than a century of war in Iraq, and more budget-busting tax cuts for the wealthiest few at the expense of hardworking Americans." So it's Bush, 100 years of war and tax cuts for the wealthy. Feels like October, doesn't it?
John McCain and his advisers say they aren’t counting Hillary Clinton out when it comes to who will win the Democratic presidential nomination, but you sure couldn’t tell that from the Arizona senator’s victory speech tonight after his win in the Wisconsin GOP primary.
For the second week in a row, McCain took direct aim at Barack Obama, who leads the delegate fight for the Democratic nod. “I will fight every moment of every day in this campaign to make sure Americans are not deceived by an eloquent but empty call for change that promises no more than a holiday from history and a return to the false promises and failed policies of a tired philosophy that trusts in government more than people,” McCain said to a packed ballroom in Columbus, Ohio, where voters will head to the polls on Mar. 4.
Speaking about the political turmoil in Pakistan and Afghanistan and the anti-American hostility shown by Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, McCain brought up Obama’s comments several months ago that if elected president he’d be willing to meet with America’s critics. “Will the next president have the experience, the judgment that experience informs and the strength of purpose to respond to each of these developments in ways that strengthen our security and advance the global progress of our ideals?” McCain asked hypothetically. “Or will we risk the confused leadership of an inexperienced candidate who once suggested invading our ally, Pakistan, and sitting down without pre-conditions or clear purpose with enemies who support terrorists and are intent on destabilizing the world by acquiring nuclear weapons?” McCain even played the age card, telling the crowd, “I’m not the youngest candidate, but I am the most experienced.”
Indeed, there was only one line in McCain’s speech that might be interpreted as a dig at Clinton—and that might be stretching it: “I don’t seek the office out of entitlement,” McCain declared.
For the past few days, McCain has been insisting that he is still running as candidate in the primary, as opposed to the general election. Technically, he’s right. Even after his big win tonight in Wisconsin, McCain is still a few hundred short of the 1,191 delegates he needs to officially clinch the Republican nomination. Still, he rarely mentions Mike Huckabee, his last remaining rival in the race, and when he does, it’s never in a negative context. Tonight, he mentioned Huckabee’s name one single time, telling the crowd that the former Arkansas governor has “shown impressive grit and passion” in the race. “I have come to admire (him) very much,” McCain added.
McCain and his aides may be anxious to wrap up the nomination, which they have declared “mathematically impossible” for Huckabee to win. But the Arkansas governor’s decision to remain in the race has been something for a blessing in disguise. With a Democratic race that seems tight as a tick, Huckabee’s decision to remain in the race has kept attention on McCain in states like Wisconsin and Ohio, which will likely be battleground states in the fall. McCain’s decision to campaign heavily in Ohio over the next few days is as much of a nod to his attempt to wrap up the nomination as woo voters in advance of November.
McCain has been very careful not to assume victory just yet, but it’s clear he is beginning to position himself as a general election candidate, talking plenty these days about how he plans to unite his party. Asked today how he plans to compete in a political environment that seems favorable to Democrats, he admitted his party has an uphill climb. “We have a lot of work to do with our base,” the senator said. “We have to unite it and we have to energize it. I am working as hard as I possibly can to unite and energize."