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McCain bid could surprise rest of world

6 February 2008

WASHINGTON – John McCain’s "Super Tuesday" victory on the biggest day of voting so far in the presidential campaign has left him on a clear path to capture the Republican nomination, and closer to taking the White House than many outside the United States might think.

While the celebrity candidacies of Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have stolen the international spotlight, the Arizona senator has diligently plotted his rise to the Republican crown with his straightforward manner of speech, relatively moderate views on domestic issues and tough stance on foreign policy.

Those three characteristics resonate well with American voters, and could dash hopes abroad that President George W Bush’s successor will be one of the more dazzling, left-leaning Democrats like Obama, who wants to be the first black president, or Clinton, who would be the first woman to get the job.

The 71-year-old McCain’s popularity shows that Americans might not be as ready for change as media surveys show, even though the theme has dominated the Democratic side of the race. After a quarter-century in Congress, he will be 72 years old by the 4 November election and would be the oldest ever to begin a first term in the White House.

Eight surveys published in the last three weeks on realclearpolitics.com show McCain has the best chance among the Republicans to defeat the Democratic nominee. McCain beats Obama in three of the polls and is tied in a fourth. McCain’s numbers are better than Clinton’s in six of the polls.

McCain all but locked up the Republican nomination on Tuesday, when Republican contests took place in 21 states. McCain decisively defeated his closest rival, the conservative Mitt Romney, by winning the most important states, including heavyweights New York and California.

"Although I’ve never minded the role of the underdog, … tonight I think we must get used to the idea that we are the Republican Party frontrunner for the nomination," a buoyant McCain told supporters late Tuesday. "And I don’t really mind it one bit."

Although the race is not over, Super Tuesday virtually handed McCain an insurmountable lead, freeing him up to finish off his competition and begin focusing on the general election, while neither Obama, 46, or Clinton, 60, emerged as a clear frontrunner.  

Only last summer, McCain’s campaign appeared to be short lived. He was struggling to raise money, hold onto staff and had to shutter offices. McCain’s hardline stance on Iraq also did its share of damage. He backed Bush in opposing withdrawal deadlines, and called for a troop build up long before Bush’s January 2007 order to do so.

The troop surge has since sharply decreased the violence in Iraq and reinvigorated the US mission. But like the effort in Iraq, a presidential campaign is a long, hard slog, and the slightest slip up can undo a candidate.

McCain’s moderate domestic views have helped him win independent votes, and capitalize on the split in the conservative base between Romney and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee. But his independence might alienate him from rank-and-file Republicans and prompt them to stay home in November.

Defeated by Bush for the 2000 Republican nomination, McCain also has a reputation for a hot temper, and will need to ensure it is not displayed under the intense pressure of a presidential campaign.

McCain, however, brings "war hero" credentials to the White House at a time when America considers itself in a conflict with Islamic terrorism. A Vietnam War pilot, he was shot down over Hanoi in 1967 and spent more than five years as a prisoner, frequently enduring torture at the hands of his captors.

His experience led him to champion legislation in Congress in 2005 banning the inhumane treatment of prisoners in the war on terrorism, including at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and restricted interrogation methods for all parts of the US government to the rules outlined in the Army’s field manual. His amendment passed the Senate by a 90-9 vote despite the Bush administration’s opposition, spearheaded by Vice President Dick Cheney.


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[Copyright dpa 2008]

Subject: Super Tuesday, US elections