By Dick Morris on January 29, 2008

Published on on January 30, 2008.

Some may agree with Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) positions on his myriad of causes and enthusiasms. Others may embrace Mitt Romney’s record as governor and his experience in business. But one fact remains pre-eminent – McCain has a much better chance of winning the election than does former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R).

If you feel confident, for some unknown reason, in a Republican victory, it is possible that either candidate could win. If you feel the nation is aching for a Democrat, as I do, then the importance of choosing the strongest candidate fades a bit.

But any rational observer has to conclude that John McCain has a better shot of winning than Mitt Romney does.

And, if a failure to win means the election of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), the stakes are too high to ignore the issue of political practicality in making a choice.

Perhaps because he is better known, the Arizona senator ties Hillary in the match-ups while Romney trails by up to 12 points.

But the real difference is not in their current polling performance, but in their future potential as November candidates.

Because of his immigration position – the same one that has so fouled his relationship with the Republican right – McCain has a very good shot at winning a lot of Hispanic votes. While the Clintons have always had a genuine, if now faded, popularity with blacks, they have never been able to boast of a strong Latino base. Partially because of Bill’s pardon of the FALN terrorists, Hillary swept the Puerto Rican vote in New York state in 2000, but she has no special appeal to bring to a genuine battle for their support. Romney’s hard-line immigration position will leave Latinos cold.

But McCain has a chance with them.

The bitterness of the Democratic contest leaves open the possibility of massive defections from Hillary should she be the candidate, both among blacks and whites. There will be legions of disappointed young voters if Obama eventually loses to the race-baiting Clinton machine.

McCain’s record offers much to attract these disaffected Democrats and independents. His ability to win independents where they are permitted to vote in Republican primaries attests to his appeal to swing voters.

McCain’s co-sponsorship with Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) of legislation to prevent global warming, his opposition to torture or waterboarding in terrorist interrogations, his support for campaign finance reform, his backing for regulation of tobacco by the Food and Drug Administration, his suggestion of serious corporate governance reforms in the wake of the Enron scandal, and his crusade against earmarking by Congress all put him squarely in position to win disaffected moderates, Democrats, and independents.

He clearly would dominate the national security issue as the Republican nominee in a way that Romney, without the relevant experience, could never do. Particularly in opposing a female liberal candidate amid a global war against terror that could heat up at any moment, this is no inconsiderable advantage.

Hillary’s phony experience argument, which she could still maintain vis-à-vis Romney, would be hollow against McCain. And while Obama could point to a significant gap in their ages, Clinton, only 10 years his junior, could not effectively make age an issue against McCain.

Obviously, McCain’s strong support for the war in Iraq would be a point of contention and vulnerability in a general election against Clinton. But his support of the surge, and its evident effectiveness in reducing combat casualties, might well give him the better of the argument in front of a moderate general electorate.

It is only on the economy that McCain has a self-proclaimed (if inadvisably so) weakness. But Hillary would be overreaching dramatically if she claimed special expertise on this issue merely through the osmosis that she claims to be a feature of living in the White House. Her tax increase proposals, particularly her support for a higher capital gains tax, can be painted, accurately, as foreshadowing doom for the economy. Neither Hillary nor McCain can claim the economy as an especial preserve.

Can Romney? Inexplicably, the McCain campaign has not spoken of the layoffs that must have accompanied Romney’s efforts to “turn around” failing companies. Hedge funds are notorious for cutting jobs and the Clintons will make Mitt eat every single one. McCain has no such vulnerability and, hopefully, will make Romney’s layoffs an issue before Super Tuesday.

So McCain can win and Romney won’t. That’s the long and the short of it.

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