McCain's New Front
Of all the warriors inspired to battle by the testimony of General David Petraeus, perhaps none is as eager to engage as Arizona Sen. John McCain, who is leading a public relations onslaught on behalf of the war in Iraq.
Even before his fellow senators had finished quizzing Petraeus on Tuesday, McCain had headed back to the presidential campaign trail to launch what he calls his "No Surrender" tour.
After jetting from Washington to Sioux City, Iowa on a private plane for a rally Tuesday evening, McCain offered a candidate's version of the general's measured but optimistic assessment of slow progress on the battlefield.
"This strategy is working. It is succeeding, and it must be given a chance to succeed," he said last night before boarding his campaign bus.
He will continue his tour in Council Bluffs, Des Moines and Waterloo today, as he attempts to rally support for the war -- and his flagging presidential campaign -- in advance of a Senate debate on the future of the Iraq effort.
Earlier this year, McCain's support for President Bush's war policy appeared to be an albatross around his neck. As support for the war sank, McCain appeared to be the presidential candidate most closely associated with a failing, unpopular policy.
Now, with Petraeus offering a plea for time and saying the surge is working, McCain may be in a better position to ask for voter support.
"I'm in the camp that thinks you can't count him out and he's not dead," Mike Murphy, a GOP consultant who worked for McCain's 200 campaign, said recently. "What happens if McCain beats Rudy [Giuliani] in Iowa? I think McCain gets another big bite at the apple."
For months, McCain has been trying to find a way to use his long-standing credibility as a straight-talker, especially on military issues, to his benefit as a candidate for president. His straight talk on immigration earlier this year helped sink his campaign.
His advisers are hoping the "No Surrender" tour will highlight McCain's experience with national security and his smarts in recognizing the value of the surge even when others did not.
In last week's Fox Republican debate, McCain offered a glimpse of how he hopes to use the issue to differentiate himself from his rivals. When former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney said the surge was "apparently" working, McCain quickly and sternly corrected him.
"It is working," McCain said. "Not apparently."
Sure enough, as McCain's campaign will be pointing out all week, Petraeus said the same thing in testimony Monday and Tuesday. "The military objectives of the surge are, in large measure, being met," he told House members and Senators.
McCain the senator vows to lead the expected fight in the Senate with Democrats later this month about the future war policy in Iraq. If it works the way he hopes, McCain the candidate might get a boost, too.
--Michael D. Shear
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