Can McCain expect a Kerry-like revival?

Tom Witosky of the Des Moines Register says that John McCain is hoping for a revival in this year’s presidential campaign similar the one his friend John Kerry experienced in 2004. Indeed, McCain’s campaign manager, Rick Davis, told Witosky “”It is the Kerry model in a lot of ways.” Davis added:

Iowa always tends to punish the front-runner right down at the end of the campaign. So we want to hang around and be a very viable campaign in Iowa long enough for everyone to take that second look. That is what we like about Iowa.

The Kerry model may offer McCain hope in Iowa, but can McCain reasonably expect fully to replicate Kerry’s comeback by capturing his party’s nomination? Perhaps, but there are some very fundamental differences in the two situations, and I’m not referring to McCain’s fundraising problems.
First, there was no real distance between Kerry and the Democratic base. Sure, Kerry had voted for the Iraq war, but his credentials as a dove were otherwise solid. Few Democrats believed that Kerry really wanted to go to war in Iraq, so all they had to forgive was his opportunism. McCain has distanced himself from the Republican base on a number of important issues, most notably immigration and campaign finance reform. And no one doubts his sincerity on these matters. In this respect, his superior personal qualities conspire against him.
Second, the Democratic base forgave Kerry’s opportunistic vote on Iraq because it believed, foolishly, that he was electable. It’s conceivable that most Republicans would overlook non-conservative positions McCain has taken for the same reason except for one thing — there’s an alternative to McCain who has at least as strong an electability claim, Rudy Giuliani. Unless Giuliani destructs, it’s difficult for me to picture McCain following in Kerry’s footsteps.
Via Real Clear Politics
JOHN adds: I can’t argue with that logic, but I do think it is useful to remember what a dead duck John Kerry was in late 2003–later than the stage we are at in the current election cycle. At that point, I thought that Kerry probably couldn’t wait for the New Hampshire primary to be over so he could be put out of his misery and go back to being a Senator who rarely showed up in the Senate. On December 29, 2003, I did a post titled “Things Can’t Get Much Worse.” Here is the text of the post:

For John Kerry, that is. The photo below appeared in the Concord Monitor and has been the subject of considerable hilarity in New Hampshire. It isn’t clear whether the picture was a set-up or not; the 17-year-old wearing the tee-shirt apparently is a Republican.

So things can change fast in a Presidential campaign. The circumstances were very different, of course. Howard Dean had sucked up pretty much all the energy on the Democratic side in late 2003, yet he was basically untested as a candidate. His surprisingly poor finish in Iowa, capped off by the “scream,” finished him. Democrats panicked and fled to Kerry on the theory that he was electable. Almost overnight, Kerry went from has-been to front-runner.
There is little or no analogy between Howard Dean and Rudy Giuliani, and even if something happened to make Giuliani implode, Republicans would not default to McCain in a panic. So perhaps there is little point in trying to compare Kerry to McCain–except as a reminder that things can change very fast in politics.


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