Sen. John McCain is playing both sides against the middle as he supports sending more than 21,500 additional troops to Iraq while trying to distance himself from President Bush by labeling the war a “train wreck.”
But election analysts and pollsters say the new tack is costing him independent voters, once his strong suit.
As the Arizona Republican, long popular among the liberal media, seeks to secure religious and social conservatives by espousing a hard line against homosexual “marriage” and abortion, independents are abandoning him in droves, a trend election analysts say could be fatal to his 2008 presidential hopes.
“It’s almost bipolar,” said pollster John Zogby, who has done work for Mr. McCain in the past. “He walks a very thin line here. What made John McCain so popular was the maverick, independent, anti-party establishment, war-hero status. He was popular among independents, Democrats, and not unpopular at all among Republicans. But in the process of redefining himself from the hawkish, pro-surge, hug-the-president McCain, the redefinition has un-defined him,” Mr. Zogby said.
Courting both sides while seeking the middle can be dangerous, Mr. Zogby said. “You risk alienating both sides, and a strong case can be made for winning from the center this year. McCain, though, is not just making small moves. His is much more like a huge pendulum swing, and thus far, it has not been helping him in the polls,” he said.
Mr. McCain began this month moving hard to the right, declaring his opposition to same-sex “marriage” and saying that he favored the overturn of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that made abortion a constitutional right. Asked in Seattle on Friday whether he was simply seeking to curry favor with conservatives, Mr. McCain said frankly: “I’ll probably get into trouble, but what’s wrong with sucking up to everybody?”
What’s wrong indeed? As much as I think that he’s a horrible senator, I’m at least glad that he’s admitting to playing the politics game instead of trying to tell us that he’s got principles.