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January 9, 2008

John McCain's Non-Triumphant Conference Call

We're about to enter another of the regular blogger conference calls held by John McCain. This will, of course, be the first since his surprisingly strong victory over Mitt Romney and the rest of the Republican field.

He starts off by noting that he is "obviously very pleased" with the results. McCain credits his straight talk on the stump in New Hampshire. He has nothing much to offer for the Democratic Party result, maybe one of the few who haven't opined on it. McCain tells a story about hardening his resolve in a summer trip to Iraq with Lindsey Graham. The fall's focus on the war also helped motivate him to fight his way to victory in order to ensure that the war gets managed properly.

McCain says that Michigan is "one of Governor Romney's home towns," and he's assembling a team to help him win. Tom Ridge vouched for his credentials on border security, and he thinks that will play well in Michigan. Frank Keating, the former Oklahoma governor, will join him as well.


* Will McCain support an executive order barring the funding of non-legislative earmarks? -- Absolutely. "People are sick and tired of the wasteful spending." Graham's there and misunderstood his answer, and he joked that he has to pay for a translator whenever Graham's around. More seriously, he says he wants to attack this kind of earmarking as President.

* Does he look at the breakdown of last night's demos and feel some justification after all the negative ads? -- McCain doesn't want to call the attacks unfair, but he thinks they didn't have the effect Romney wanted. The strength as Commander in Chief also makes him feel pretty good, especially right after the Pakistan and Iranian Navy challenges.

* Can he duplicate the win in NH elsewhere? - History shows that whoever wins two of the first three contests usually wins the nomination. They have already begun building their efforts in Michigan, South Carolina, and Florida, and the money flow has significantly improved. He wants to stick with the town-hall format.

* He's happy with the endorsements of the state media in Michigan. It will still tough, as Romney has strong ties to Michigan, but he also had strong ties in New Hampshire.

* Economy - McCain says he has several messages here. He wants lower taxes, but wants lower spending as well. He also wants to see a lowered reliance on imported oil. Michigan is really hurting, and he wants to see job retraining and assistance for displaced workers. "We can't leave these people behind." He notes that the jobs that have been lost won't be coming back -- so let's start building the new jobs that will put Americans back to work.

* Will we see Lieberman out on the stump? - Yes. He will come to Michigan on Monday, on the eve of the primaries.

* Is he doing traditional fundraisers? Some, but most of it's coming in through the Internet. It's coming in "very strong".

* What should the Republican message be? -- Trust and confidence, stop the wasteful spending, national security, reduce the federal government, and fix entitlement programs. It's change -- but it's change back to the principles for which Republicans should stand. The Democrats talk about change but offer no specifics. We need to talk specifically about change.

* Qualities in a running mate -- Wants someone very good at national security, and strong expertise in areas where he has weaker credentials. He mentioned Phil Gramm could be on his team (Cabinet, perhaps) for his strength in economics.

* What do you make of Mike Huckabee? -- He's proven that debate matter, as he's done quite well in that format. He could have a very respectful debate with Huckabee, without vitriol. He's a good campaigner, "the kind of guy you wouldn't mind living next to you". He sees Huckabee as having the same weakness as the rest of the contenders.

Actually, I have to give McCain some credit here. He handled the win with humility, noting that he has an uphill fight in Michigan and South Carolina, but is confident he's on the right trajectory. He didn't crow about his win, and begged off opportunities to do so. I found the Phil Gramm reference very intriguing -- he's a man with whom conservatives can work, and having him on McCain's team may help in that regard.

I'd call this business as usual, in the best possible sense.


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