Wednesday, March 05, 2008



McCain turns to November: Can he win?

Now that he is the U.S. Republican presidential nominee, John McCain faces a huge challenge: How to beat recent history and win a third straight White House term for his party....

He faces an uphill battle against either Obama or Clinton.

In the last 50 years, only once has the party in power for two terms in a row been able to win a third one, when George H.W. Bush, the current president's father, succeeded the immensely popular Ronald Reagan in the 1988 election.

And this year the call for change is plaintive: The U.S. economy is in trouble, Americans are tired of the Iraq war, and most are ready to move on from unpopular President George W. Bush....

If you argue that the out party has to win when we're in an unpopular war and the economy is tanking, you're making an argument that's the mirror image of the conventional wisdom in 2000. Remember? We had peace and prosperity, so Al Gore should have won decisively. (That argument is still used to deride Al Gore's campaign skills.)

And if the one guy in the past fifty years who extended his party's streak to three terms was Poppy Bush, that just proves a weak, stale candidate can get the job done.

The rules that trump all of these historical patterns in the modern political world are that Democrats always run under a cloud of suspicion and Republicans under a presumption of fitness and worthiness, and that voters in search of a president gravitate to Daddy. These aren't insurmountable, but they have to be surmounted. Past election history isn't going to neutralize them.

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