McCain as Wildcard
As we wrote in our debate preview, Sen. John McCain is the wildcard in both tonight's debate and the race more generally. McCain isn't a top tier candidate any more but he is well-liked in New Hampshire and his reputation for straight talk can influence the race if he directs it at a specific candidate.
McCain jumped in to hammer Romney after the former Massachusetts Governor said the surge was "apparently" working. "It is working," McCain said. "Not apparently." He went on to deliver his standard riff on how setting a timetable for withdrawal would be setting a "surrender date."
Minutes before, McCain has stood by his comments to the New York Times yesterday that Giuliani's executive experience as the mayor of New York City on Sept. 11, 2001 did not qualify him to lead the country.
"I know the conflict, I know war, I have seen war," McCain said. "I have led."
Giuliani chose the high road, noting that he would likely support McCain if he himself wasn't running. That's a clear signal that Giuliani doesn't view McCain as a real rival; he wants to court former (and current) McCain backers, not alienate them.
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