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Jewish World Review Feb. 7, 2000 /1 Adar I, 5760

David Limbaugh

David Limbaugh
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From New Hampshire
to South Carolina -- WILL SEN. MCCAIN'S decisive win in New Hampshire trigger a momentum that will lead him to victory in South Carolina and beyond? What adjustments should Bush make to counter the McCain threat?

Some believe that with so many Independent voters, who were made to order for McCain's reform message, New Hampshire is aberrational and hardly a predictor of what will happen in subsequent states. Others say that New Hampshire has shattered Bush's aura of inevitability and that his broad but shallow following will now disintegrate and gravitate toward McCain.

I do believe that McCain will get a significant bump from New Hampshire, but not merely from his victory. Pat Buchanan received virtually no bump in his victory over Bob Dole there in 1996. Then again, Buchanan is hardly the darling of the mainstream media. McCain is. McCain will get a bump all right, but it will be the result of fawning media megaphones. The love fest has already begun.

Almost everyone agrees that South Carolina is a pivotal state for both Bush and McCain. In modern times, no candidate has captured the GOP nomination without first winning the South Carolina primary.

At last count, McCain was trailing Bush by 20 points in South Carolina, narrowing the gap from 48 points in November. Bush definitely has his hands full in seeking to make South Carolina his "firewall" state.

Moderate Republicans are looking at New Hampshire and urging Bush to tailor his message to Independents, which they say, will also be indispensable for his general election victory. That's the wrong lesson.

Exit polls show that McCain beat Bush among Republicans in New Hampshire as well as Independents. How can this be, given the fact that Bush is decidedly more conservative on most of the major issues?

First, Bush has obviously failed to convince enough voters of his conservative bona fides, and conversely, of McCain's liberal leanings on major issues. Plus, Clinton scandal fatigue is finally causing voters to focus on character issues. I think that explains Bradley's last minute surge in New Hampshire -- it happened after he legitimately called into question Al Gore's integrity. Exit polling data shows that N.H. voters believed that McCain is more of a leader, more his own man and possesses greater character than Bush. McCain has a ready-made character advantage with his military record and his advocacy of campaign finance reform.

Now that he's in a war, Bush needs to quit running as a complacent front- runner, borrow a page from the Bradley playbook and take his gloves off. His tentative approach may create the false impression that he's neither a leader nor his own man. As long as he refuses to engage McCain for fear that his POW experience places him above scrutiny, he will suffer the consequences.

To improve his standing on character and policy issues, he must talk more directly and more clearly. By more directly, I mean that he should fully articulate his reasons for certain positions. When asked whether he will agree to a litmus test with his judicial appointments and running mate, for example, he needs to explain why he will not. His unexplained refusal to do so fosters serious doubt about his pro-life commitment. I am convinced that he is adamantly pro-life, but many voters may not be.

By talking more clearly, I mean that Bush must clarify his message and draw a stark contrast between himself and McCain. He must demonstrate how his policy proposals are much more conservative than McCain's and how McCain reforms are actually a formula for more government and would be detrimental to the Republican Party and the country. By engaging in straighter talk he will improve his standing in both the character and issues departments.

Now that intense campaigning has begun in South Carolina, Bush cannot expect to rely on his endorsements from prominent Christian figures alone to deliver its substantial Christian conservative vote. Again, the spotlight is on Bush himself, and he'll have to convince voters directly, rather than through surrogates, of his commitment to social issues.

In the next weeks we'll find out whether Bush has the stuff to fend off his fiercest challenge to date. If he emerges victorious, he'll be a stronger candidate in November.

JWR contributor David Limbaugh is an attorney practicing in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and a political analyst and commentator. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


02/02/00: SDI must fly
01/31/00: Veep gores Bradley
01/26/00: The issues gap
01/24/00: GOP: Exit, stage left
01/20/00: Nationalizing congressional elections
01/18/00: Do voters really prefer straight talk?
01/12/00: Media's McCain efforts may backfire
01/10/00: Conservative racism myth
01/05/00: Just one more year of Clintonian politics
01/03/00: McMedia?
12/27/99: Al Gore: Bullish on government
12/22/99: Bradley's full-court press
12/20/99: Bush: Rendering unto Caesar
12/15/99: Beltway media bias
12/13/99: White House ambulance chasing
12/08/99: Clinton's labor pains
12/06/99:The lust for power
12/01/99: In defense of liberty
11/29/99: Are Republicans obsolete?
11/24/99: Say you're sorry, Mr. President
11/22/99: Architects of victory
11/17/99: Trump's tax on freedom
11/15/99: GOP caves again
11/10/99: Triangulation and 'The Third Way'
11/08/99: Sticks and stones
11/03/99: Keyes vs. media lapdogs
11/01/99: Signs of the times
10/27/99: The false charge of isolationism
10/25/99: A matter of freedom
10/20/99: Clinton's mini-meltdown
10/18/99: Senate GOP shows statesmanship
10/13/99: Senate must reject nuclear treaty
10/11/99: Bush bites feeding hand
10/06/99: Jesse accidentally opens door for Pat
10/04/99: Clinton and his media enablers
09/29/99: Reagan: Big-tent conservatism
09/27/99: The Clinton/Gore taint?
09/22/99: Have gun (tragedy), will travel
09/20/99: Hillary's blunders and bloopers
09/15/99: GOP must remain conservative
09/13/99:Time for Bush to take charge, please
09/10/99: Bush's education plan: Dubya confounds again
09/07/99: Pat, savior or spoiler?
09/02/99: Character doesn't matter?
08/30/99: Should we judge?
08/25/99: Dubyah's drug question: Not a hill to die on
08/23/99: Should Dubyah start buying soap ... for all that mud?
08/16/99: 'W' stands for 'winner'
08/11/99: The truth about tax cuts
08/09/99: Hillary: Threading the needle
08/04/99: What would you do?
08/02/99: No appeasement for China
07/30/99: Hate Crimes Bill: Cynical Symbolism
07/26/99: Itís the 'moderates', stupid
07/21/99: JFK Jr. and Diana: the pain of privilege
07/19/99: Smith, Bush and the GOP
07/14/99: GOP must be a party of ideas
07/12/99: Gore's gender gap
07/08/99: Clintonís faustian bargain: our justice
07/06/99: The key to Bush's $36 million
06/30/99: Gore: a soda in every fountain
06/28/99: 'Sacred wall' or religious barrier?
06/23/99: GOP must lead in foreign policy
06/21/99: Crumbs of compassion
06/16/99: Compassionate conservatism: face-lift or body transplant?
06/10/99: Victory in Kosovo? Now What?