Saturday, January 19, 2008


As I predicted at National Review Online, John McCain came out on top in South Carolina by getting the same 1/3rd of the vote in the Palmetto State that he got in New Hampshire and Michigan. But did he "win?"

In 2000, running against George W. Bush and the entire Carroll Campbell machine in South Carolina, John McCain got 42% of the vote, and 240,000 votes out of 573,000 or so cast.

Tonight, he got 33% of the vote in a field where his top challengers--Romney and Giuliani--aren't even running, and 135,000 actual votes. If just the same people who voted for McCain in 2000 had voted for him today, he would have won 50+% of the South Carolina vote. That would have been truly impressive.

Instead, John McCain LOST the support of 100,000 people--and he's the winner?

McCain had the same "success" in New Hampshire (McCain, 2000: 48%, 116,000 votes; McCain 2008: 37%, 89,000 votes) and Michigan (2000: 50%, 600,000 votes; 2008: 30%, 257,000 votes).
Yes, overall participation in the GOP primaries is down this year--a fact that should concern Republicans regardless of who they choose as their nominee. But that doesn't mitigate McCain's overall weakness. In fact, as the one person who's run for president before and who is touted as a crossover candidate with broad appeal, his slice of the electoral pie should have MORE impact as the number of challengers rises and the number of voters declines.
McCain is a weak candidate by any measure. Only once in his two presidential races has John McCain ever won a majority of the vote, and that was Michigan in 2000. He has yet to crack 40% of the vote this year, and he's done even worse among self-identified Republicans (as opposed to independents and crossover Democrats).
If you really want to see McCain's weakness, however, try this thought experiment:
It's October, 2008. America's economy is in a recession. People are demanding change and new ideas, someone to give them optimism and hope on domestic issues. On stage, facing off in their final presidential debate to discuss jobs, economic policy and hope for the future are John McCain and Barack Obama.
And be sure to imagine how it will look on television, and to people who don't really follow politics (they are, after all, the swing voters who will pick the next president).
Now, tell me again how the Republican Party won something tonight...?