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McCain Says His Success Hinges on War Views

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McCain Says His Success Hinges on War Views

Election 2008

McCain Says His Success Hinges on War Views

McCain Says His Success Hinges on War Views

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Republican presidential candidate John McCain is almost certain to win the party's nomination. So, McCain is turning his attention to the general election. This week, the Arizona senator said his success in the general election depends on whether people believe the war in Iraq is working.


Whoever wins the Democratic nomination is likely to face a Republican who's been succeeding despite his support for an unpopular cause. Senator John McCain said this week that his success hinges on Americans' view of that cause, and we have more this morning from NPR's Scott Horsley.

SCOTT HORSLEY: John McCain's thoughts are never far from the battlefield in Iraq, even when the political battles of the week are being fought in Texas and Ohio.

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HORSLEY: Yesterday McCain toured a factory outside Cincinnati where workers assemble armored Humvees destined for the Middle East.

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Presidential Candidate): You are actively engaged, I believe, as an integral part in the struggle against radical Islamic extremism.

HORSLEY: McCain cautioned that the struggle will be long, hard, and tough.

Sen. MCCAIN: Do I think that this conflict is gonna be over against al-Qaida very soon? No, I do not. But I also believe that we will never surrender. We will never surrender to an enemy that wants to destroy everything we stand for and believe in.

HORSLEY: McCain was an outspoken backer of last year's troop surge in Iraq, and he acknowledged this week his own political fate rests on the war's success. He bluntly told reporters Monday that unless Americans believe the war effort is working, he'll lose the election. He later backed away from the comment about losing, but he's not about to back down from his position on Iraq.

Sen. MCCAIN: I said eight months ago and I've said ever since then, I would much rather lose a campaign than lose a war, that's exactly the way I felt then and that's exactly the way I've felt now.

HORSLEY: Cincinnati retiree Karen Gillen supports McCain on the war. She believes the U.S. is making progress in Iraq and she thinks that will help McCain in November.

Ms. KAREN GILLEN (Factory retiree, Cincinnati, Ohio): I think we need to stay in the war and he's one that's gonna do that and win this. We went there for a reason, we've gotta finish it.

HORSLEY: But in hard hit Ohio, the economy is a bigger concern than the war for many voters, even those who work at the armored Humvee plant. When McCain took questions there, nearly everyone asked about domestic challenges. Welder Eliza Young quizzed McCain about how he'd help people who are unemployed and in danger of losing their homes.

Mr. ELIZA YOUNG (Factory welder, Cincinnati, Ohio): In Ohio, we lost more jobs than any other place and we don't have a lot of give lately. My vote, I'm explained out how the economy - you gonna take care of the economy in Ohio.

HORSLEY: Young was not entirely satisfied with McCain's answers about lowering interest rates and expanding job training. McCain says he expects to be judged against the Democrats for his handling of both the economy and national security. He also made it clear yesterday, he expects that contest to be respectful.

A Cincinnati talk radio host who served as a warm-up speaker at McCain's rally described the Democrats in disparaging terms. Bill Cunningham repeatedly drew attention to Barack Obama's middle name.

Mr. BILL CUNNINGHAM (Cincinnati Radio Host): At some point, the media will quit taking sides in things and maybe start covering Barack Hussein Obama the same way they covered Bush, the same way they covered Cheney, and the same way they cover every Republican.

HORSLEY: McCain quickly apologized for Cunningham's remarks and said it wouldn't happen again.

Sen. MCCAIN: I have repeatedly stated of my respect for Senator Obama and Senator Clinton, that I will treat them with respect, I will call them Senator, we will have respectful debate. I regret any comments that may be made about these two individuals who are honorable Americans. We just have strong philosophical differences.

HORSLEY: McCain also defended his plan to opt out of the public financing system during the primary, which the Democratic National Committee has challenged. If McCain were unable to opt out, his campaign would face crippling spending limits for the next six months. McCain's fund raising reportedly increased last week in response to a front page story in the New York Times that focused attention to his ties to lobbyists. He held two fund raisers yesterday and has two more planned today.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, Tyler, Texas.

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What's at Stake in the March 4 Primaries?

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Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton speaks during a campaign rally on Feb. 19 in Youngstown, Ohio. Jeff Swensen/Getty Images hide caption

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Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton speaks during a campaign rally on Feb. 19 in Youngstown, Ohio.

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Democratic Sen. Barack Obama speaks during a primary campaign rally at the Toyota Center on Feb. 19 in Houston, Texas. Dave Einsel/Getty Images hide caption

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Democratic Sen. Barack Obama speaks during a primary campaign rally at the Toyota Center on Feb. 19 in Houston, Texas.

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Read a State-by-State Analysis of March 4 Primaries:

Republican Sen. John McCain greets supporters while leaving Charlie's Restaurant on Feb. 21 in Perrysburg, Ohio. J.D. Pooley/Getty Images hide caption

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Republican Sen. John McCain greets supporters while leaving Charlie's Restaurant on Feb. 21 in Perrysburg, Ohio.

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The Democratic primaries in Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont on March 4 are seen as make-or-break for the presidential campaign of New York Sen. Hillary Clinton.

Clinton needs to triumph in the delegate-rich states of Texas and Ohio to halt the momentum of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, who has won 11 consecutive nominating contests since Super Tuesday (including the Virgin Islands and the Democrats Abroad Global Primary). Even her husband, former President Bill Clinton, has said that Texas and Ohio are must-win states if she is going to have a chance at taking the nomination.

For Obama, a successful March 4 could help nudge him toward the nomination and solidify the growing perception that he is the party's front-runner. He will still have to court the roughly 800 Democratic superdelegates, who act as free agents and who can vote for either candidate, regardless of their state's popular vote. (Both Obama and Clinton have been wooing the superdelegates relentlessly.)

The two candidates have been campaigning heavily in Texas (193 delegates) and Ohio (141), focusing especially on those states' respective Hispanic and working-class voters through rallies and advertisements.

On the Republican side, Arizona Sen. John McCain has swept recent primaries in Virginia, Maryland, the District of Columbia and Wisconsin, and now delivers speeches with the confidence of a man who is certain to be his party's nominee.

But a recent New York Times article proved to be a major distraction. The article outlined McCain's allegedly close relationship with a female lobbyist, with hints of a friendship that went beyond the professional. (Some commentators make the argument that for someone who stakes his reputation on his honesty and "straight talk," the article has the potential to prove damaging. Others say the story could ultimately help McCain with more conservative Republicans by making the argument that it was an effort by the liberal media to hurt the Arizona senator's prospects.)

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee remains a candidate, though since Super Tuesday, when he did well in the South, he has won in just two states, Louisiana and Kansas. (Congressman Ron Paul of Texas, who has not won anywhere, is staying in the race as well, though he faces a challenge back home for his House seat in the March 4 primary.) Huckabee has said he will continue as a candidate until he or McCain has the 1,191 delegates needed to officially capture the nomination.

The Candidates

The Democrats: New York Sen. Hillary Clinton; Illinois Sen. Barack Obama

The Republicans: Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee; Arizona Sen. John McCain; Texas Rep. Ron Paul


The Democrats: Clinton is hoping that her strong ties to Texas will give her a boost. She worked in the Rio Grande Valley 35 years ago, registering voters — a fact she often mentions on local campaign stops. Texans also did well under the Bill Clinton White House, earning posts in the Treasury, Energy and Interior departments, along with two ambassadorships.

But Obama is on a roll. The night of Feb. 19, when he was declaring victory in the Wisconsin primary, he did so from Houston — signifying the importance he places on the state. Texas has an odd dual primary/caucus system, and Obama has done very well in states that hold caucuses; in fact, with the exception of Nevada, he has swept every caucus state.

New Texas polls show the two candidates locked in a dead heat.

Texas Democrats must vote in their senatorial districts by ballot, and then also attend a caucus immediately after the polls close. One hundred and twenty-six delegates will be awarded based on the primary, while 42 Democratic delegates will come from the caucus.

The Republicans: Arizona Sen. John McCain has been popular with Hispanics since he co-authored the ultimately unsuccessful immigration bill that would have created a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants. Huckabee, whose record also shows a more moderate viewpoint on immigration than some others in the party would prefer, has been campaigning in Houston and San Antonio.

Hispanics are the key demographic to court in Texas and could make up as much as 40 percent of the total electorate. The candidates have been running Spanish-language ads; the Feb. 21 Democratic debate in Austin was co-sponsored by the Spanish television network Univision.

Another key demographic: African-American voters, expected to be 25 percent of the primary electorate.


Ohio's sluggish economy is the key issue in the upcoming primary; unemployment in the Buckeye State is greater than in any state in the region other than Michigan. Candidates of both parties have talked about their plans to create jobs and stimulate the economy. Hundreds of thousands of Ohio's manufacturing jobs have left the area. The state has also been hit hard by high unemployment and home-foreclosure rates.

The Democrats: A recent poll seems to suggest that Obama's support in the Buckeye State is increasing, though Clinton appears to be holding a lead, however tenuous. Two Ohio labor unions, with a combined membership of about a 100,000, switched their backing from former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards to Obama. The Illinois senator also has received the national backing of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which represents more than 1 million truck drivers and warehouse workers. Obama's plans for affordable health care, as well as tax credits for low- and middle-income workers and seniors, could appeal to the state's working class.

Clinton has also campaigned in Ohio, most recently in Youngstown and Columbus. She is hoping to appeal to women and working-class voters, who have made up her base in past primaries. Her health care plan calls for universal coverage, and she has proposed a $70 billion economic stimulus plan that includes a moratorium on foreclosures and an assistance fund for at-risk borrowers. Clinton has started running ads that appeal to blue-collar workers. Her latest Ohio ad begins with the phrase: "You pour coffee, fix hair. You work the night shift at the local hospital. You're often overworked, underpaid, and sometimes overlooked...She understands."

Ohio is not used to playing a decisive role in the nominating process. The last time that happened was in 1976, when Jimmy Carter's victory in the June primary state effectively awarded him the Democratic presidential nomination.


The Democrats: The Clinton name holds much weight in Rhode Island, a state that Hillary Clinton often visited with her husband when he was president. She also has helped fundraise for several state politicians who double as superdelegates, including U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Providence Mayor David Cicciline.

But as Obama keeps building momentum in his campaign, the question becomes: Will he make inroads into Clinton's base? Michelle Obama spent an afternoon campaigning in Rhode Island, where her brother is a basketball coach at Brown University. Providence is a college town, and its university-age voters are overwhelmingly supporting Obama.

The Republicans: McCain visited Rhode Island in mid-February to try to appeal to New England's more moderate Republicans. He won Rhode Island's 2000 presidential primary with 60 percent of the vote.


The candidates have not made Vermont a major priority in this March 4 contest: It offers just 15 Democratic delegates and 19 GOP delegates.

The Democrats: None of the candidates have campaigned in the state so far. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Vermont Democrats have far surpassed the state's Republicans in fundraising for this election cycle, with $1.4 million going to Democratic candidates and $322,000 to Republicans.

University of Vermont political scientist Garrison Nelson predicts that Obama will do well in the state, since Vermont has a history of supporting maverick candidates, such as Howard Dean in 2000. (Vermont also has a senator who is an independent.)

The Republicans: McCain recently made a quick campaign stop. Huckabee is not expected to do well and is not targeting the state.

Vermont has an open primary, meaning residents can cross party lines to vote for the candidate of their choice.