Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Tough-Guy Republicans

If you want to understand the major difference between Democratic primary voters and Republican primary voters (aside from the obvious one of ideology), look no further than the campaigns of John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, and Barack Obama.

Barack Obama recently inaugurated his Iowa media campaign. One of his first two ads, one called "Carry," features Republican State Senator Kirk Dillard of Illinois, who cites Obama's alleged "negotiation skills and an ability to understand both sides." The emphasis on bipartisanship in the ad dovetails with Obama's argument on the campaign trail that politics in Washington have become too heated and divisive.

Over on the Republican side, Senator McCain's support has been perceptively slipping. McCain had long been considered the GOP frontrunner and likely nominee. However, the American Research Group had the Arizona Senator favored by 30% of likely Republican primary voters in March, 2007 but down to 20% in April, 2007. Other polls have documented a similar drop in popularity, especially startling for a veteran Republican legislator and war hero. Compare this to former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani. In each monthly poll conducted by the ARG, Rudy topped every Republican in the hearts of likely primary voters.

And what is the major difference between McCain and Giuliani? Each has deviated significantly at times from the Republican orthodoxy on various issues, McCain on campaign finance reform, tax cuts for the wealthy, and torture; Giuliani on gun control, abortion rights, and gay rights. Nevertheless, Giuliani has gained a reputation for a partisan, "take no prisoners" approach. As Michelle Cottle of The New Republic has written, "he's running as the tough-guy candidate, the man who, when anyone dares question his bomb-'em-all foreign policy impulses, begins quivering with self-righteous outrage and demands a retraction based on the fact that, on September 11, He Was There!" The candidate who, as the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports, is now condemning Bill Clinton and Democrats generally as soft on terrorism. The mayor, who, as his term was expiring, in late 2001, threatened to run as a Conserviative Party candidate for mayor, defying New York City's term limits law, if the three major candidates for mayor would not agree to extend his term by three months.

John McCain, by contrast, has earned a reputation as being willing and able to "work across the aisle," to deal with Democrats when needed to advance legislation. Even his ardent support for the illegal immigration bill currently being debated in Congress would not be quite as unpopular with the Republican voter base, not as politically devastating as it is proving, were his GOP critics not able to deride the proposal as the "Kennedy-McCain" bill. The result? Sarah Baxter of The London Times reports that if his fundraising and poll numbers continue to falter, the Arizona Senator may drop out of the race within a few months. John is not nearly the authoritarian Rudy (or George W.) is. And he's suffering for it.

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