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McCain's Straight Talk Goes Off Message

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., talks with reporters on his campaign bus en route to a town hall meeting in Cleveland, Ohio, Monday, Feb. 25, 2008. (AP.)

By Michael D. Shear
ROCKY RIVER, Ohio -- Sen. John McCain said bluntly today that he will lose the presidential election in November if the Iraq war goes badly, then quickly tried to walk his own comment back.

Asked what will happen if he can't convince the American public that the war in Iraq is succeeding, he said "Then I lose."

It took just six seconds on the back of his Straight Talk Express for McCain to realize that he might not want to say that quite so directly to a half-dozen reporters for national news organizations.

"Lemme not put it that stark," he said, prompting laughter from the reporters. "Lemme just put it this way: Americans will judge my candidacy on how, first and foremost, on how they believe I can lead the country both from our economy and for national security."

That was clearly much more "on message" and seemed to please chief aide Mark Salter, who was perched on the side of a couch, listening.

But McCain -- as is his tendency -- just kept talking.

"Okay. Obviously, Iraq will play a role in their judgment of my ability to handle national security. Okay. I retract -- if I may, I'd like to retract, 'I'll lose,'" McCain continued. "But I don't think there's any doubt that how they judge Iraq will have a direct relation to their judgment of me. My support of the surge. Clearly, I am tied to it to a large degree."

In fact, that is one of McCain's biggest challenges as he ramps up to face a general election audience in the fall that will no longer be composed mainly of Republicans who support the war in Iraq.

Polls show that 70 percent of the American public thinks the war was a mistake, and yet in head-to-head matchups against Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, McCain does well, earning the support of many of those people.

Part of McCain's strategy involves refocusing on the broader war on terrorism. At a town hall meeting outside of Cleveland, he once again vowed to get Osama bin Laden if he has to "follow him to the gates of hell."

He called the fight against terrorists a "transcendent struggle" and said America faces a "great evil. One of the greatest evils that this nation has ever encountered."

By Web Politics Editor  |  February 25, 2008; 12:58 PM ET
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I'm concerned. I'm a conservative voter and am looking for a nominee who best reflects my convictions. As of late, I am reading more about how Mccain is skirting the grey areas. He just ignores the media's questions and shows up at another endorsement.
I usually don't read democratic news releases, but if this is true, we conservatives, might have lost the election before we have a nominee.

3 questions.
Why is he skirting the FEC
Why is he not telling the truth about the Kentucky ballot.
Why won't he debate our other republican candidates? cause "he has a hard and fast schedule?"
15000 signers have signed a petition to get Mccain to debate since 1am this morning. Why is their no news on that? Why did Fox news make an article
then Fox closed the article for comments after recieving one comment?
shady, politics and the media working together= undemocratic shadyness

Posted by: JBfromFL | February 28, 2008 11:38 AM | Report abuse

I do not know what kind of commander-in-chief this man could be. He would yell "charge", then "retreat". Is he just forgetful because he is getting senile, or does he have bad judgment? He voted for a war that costs us between 2 and 3 billion dollars per week (which to me sounds like no war that has been won or is even starting to be successful. If you were giving your kid some huge amount of allowance each week, would you consider them to be successful?). He cannot remember meetings he has had with lobbyists, he cannot say the right thing -- I do not see how anyone can begin to think of him as a "straight shooter".

Posted by: ginnymci | February 26, 2008 10:30 AM | Report abuse

""Goldwater rejected the legacy of the New Deal and fought inside the Conservative coalition to defeat the New Deal coalition. He lost the 1964 presidential election by a large margin to incumbent Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson.""

Right. And we got? Lyndon B.Johnson... who put the Vietnam war... and the draft... into high gear.

Posted by: plaza04433 | February 26, 2008 12:32 AM | Report abuse

this sort of blurting out the truth is reaganesque.

"convincing" the voters about the "success" of the war? he should convince citizens that he'll adhere to the constitution.

that seems to be a problem for


Posted by: forestbloggod | February 25, 2008 11:02 PM | Report abuse

crystal ball: history repeats itself

wikipedia: John Sidney McCain III (born August 29, 1936) is the senior United States Senator from Arizona, and a candidate for the Republican Party nomination in the 2008 presidential election.

wikipedia: Barry Morris Goldwater (January 2, 1909 - May 29, 1998) was a five-term United States Senator from Arizona (1953-1965, 1969-87) and the Republican Party's nominee for President in the 1964 election. He was a Major General in the U.S. Air Force Reserves. He was also referred to as "Mr. Conservative".

Goldwater is the politician most often credited for sparking the resurgence of the American conservative political movement in the 1960s.

Goldwater rejected the legacy of the New Deal and fought inside the Conservative coalition to defeat the New Deal coalition. He lost the 1964 presidential election by a large margin to incumbent Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson.

Posted by: xira | February 25, 2008 10:42 PM | Report abuse


How do you make a Senator Like John McCain,

appear to be an Ideal Statesman,

Wholly Qualified,


a "Sure Winner" for the Executive Office/ Role of "Commander in Chief" ?




You put him up against a Pair of Unqualified, In-Competent, Loser Congressional Lawyer Clowns-who if given a Gun, would be the most dangerous to themselves,


LOL! Billary and Obasama?!

Or, is it O'Billary?

O'Billary Vs. McRomney.

Ohhhh LOL! ;~)

Posted by: rat-the | February 25, 2008 8:34 PM | Report abuse

"Sen. McCain is mistaken when he says "Americans will judge my candidacy on how they believe I can lead the country both from our economy and national security". NO,NO, Americans have already judged him and found him wanting,"
Amen. McCain's experience in dealing with terrorism is the same as Bush's --- of being WRONG WRONG WRONG.
I've been driving 30 yrs and can claim I'm the most experienced applicant for a bus driver position, but if I have a terrible record with numerous wrecks - including tragic fatalities, my experience is evidence I'm just plain lousy at driving and consequently, the LEAST qualified.

Posted by: arkrabs | February 25, 2008 8:06 PM | Report abuse

That's straight talk? He's either willing to fight for 100 years to win (exactly what he won't say) or what? He'll take the blame and lose? It doesn't matter. No Republican can win in 2008.

Posted by: thebobbob | February 25, 2008 6:21 PM | Report abuse

Senator McCain needs to realize there are two very big things he can control that will actually make Iraq, and it's stability due to the erring of it's So-Called "Leaders", insignificant.

His decision for a Running Mate, and his much needed pledge to enforce Federal Law pertaining to proper Verification of Employee ability to be eligible to Work!

Proper ID's and W-4's to be recorded on, is NOT some Option for an Employer. It IS a Federal Requirement, and it is the only Law I favor a ZERO TOLERANCE Stance on!

Then, ENFORCE the Law on Construction Sites(Every single one), Landscaping Sites, Automotive Industries, Service Companies, and every other Skilled Blue Collar Trade-Again, Every One!

Chicken Pluckers, Crop Pickers, and all the ones holding up the walls they lean against(Wall Supporters?) are NOT the ones who have destroyed our Wages and stolen Jobs they should not have! ;~)

Skilled Jobs, should only be getting done by Legally Residing, and properly Documented Workers.

Posted by: rat-the | February 25, 2008 5:43 PM | Report abuse

The war already looks pretty bad to me, and seems to be stirring up on more fronts. On the war and torture, McCain sides with his buddy Bush. So if you want to keep Bush policies, vote for McCain.

Posted by: GatorVol | February 25, 2008 5:36 PM | Report abuse

When you look at how far backward we have regressed in the 7 years of Republican rule, I would not trust any Republican in this next election. I think McCain is a nice guy but he could not shed the bagage of the Bush years. The Republicans need another 40 years in the wilderness to get their act together.

Posted by: Thependulumswings | February 25, 2008 5:29 PM | Report abuse

I am very tired of Iraq. But when one assesses HRC and Obama, it is inescapable that McCain is head and shoulders above their backgrounds, intellects and leadership talent. The democratic primary is outrageously juvenile. Dumping Billy Bob and Hilly is one thing, but trying to understand how it came to this is difficult to explain.

Posted by: DerbyDaddy | February 25, 2008 4:10 PM | Report abuse

Sen. McCain is mistaken when he says "Americans will judge my candidacy on how they believe I can lead the country both from our economy and national security". NO,NO, Americans have already judged him and found him wanting, on the fact that he supported Pres. Bush on his rush to war, has walked in lock-step with Bush in every decision he has made since the invasion of Iraq, including the surge that was supposed to shortly let some of the troops come home, and now presents the situation that there are actually more troops on the ground there than when the invasion how is all that working out for him now?

Posted by: beccajo | February 25, 2008 3:34 PM | Report abuse

Let me see here, Chicago1. You're OK with bombing Iraq and Afghanistan, I take it, where Obama bin Laden is not. But you don't want some lightweight bombing Pakistan, where he is. And we'll just keep bombing other people for a century, in the hopes that maybe the mountains will tremble and fall down on him? This is sage wisdom?

Posted by: rwspooner | February 25, 2008 2:48 PM | Report abuse

McCain is right. If he can just convince enough tourists to spend their vacations there this summer then perhaps the word will get out. Oh, that's right. They keep killing all the journalists. Oh well, for a few billion more a month of our children's money, we can assign a Blackhawk helicopter and Blackwater escorts to protect the tourists clamoring to get to Baghdad. Go, John, go!

Posted by: mcwong999 | February 25, 2008 2:45 PM | Report abuse

How is McCain any different from Bush? They both spent their college days partying, drinking, and almost flunking out and all either can talk about is war mongering.

Posted by: vflex | February 25, 2008 2:38 PM | Report abuse

Don't worry McCain. I am not ready to have another inexperienced lightweight in the White House. If Hillary loses, I will be voting for you. I wouldn't want anybody bombing Pakistan.

Posted by: Chicago1 | February 25, 2008 2:22 PM | Report abuse

That is pretty straight, just as in how he is staking up against Obama for the general election;

Obama vs. McCain- The Google Winner is...

Posted by: davidmwe | February 25, 2008 1:03 PM | Report abuse

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