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ALEX COHEN, host:

This is DAY TO DAY, I'm Alex Cohen.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

I'm Alex Chadwick. A national poll in today's Los Angeles Times put Arizona Senator John McCain in third place in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. He's behind former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani and former senator Fred Thompson, who isn't even officially running. The poll has Senator McCain with the support of just 12 percent of Republicans. This is his worst showing in a national poll since polling for this presidential race began. Meanwhile, in a speech yesterday at the Virginia Military Institute, the senator reaffirmed his commitment to the U.S. military effort in Iraq.

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona): For my part, for my part, I would rather lose a campaign than a war.

CHADWICK: Joining us is John Dickerson. He's chief political correspondent for the online magazine, Slate. John, it does look like a lot of trouble here for Senator McCain. What do you think?

Mr. JOHN DICKERSON (Slate): It is trouble for him. He's down in the poll numbers. His money in the first quarter - his ability to raise money was not good. He came in third. And remember, he was considered to be the inevitable Republican candidate. He was - he's been putting together an organization for the last two years, and now he's grabbing even more firmly to a policy that is deeply unpopular in the country.

CHADWICK: Well, it is still very early, but the poll numbers - this is not a good sign.

Mr. DICKERSON: It is very early, and you can see with Republican voters that they're moving around here. Fred Thompson's not even in the race, but he's become a kind of fantasy candidate for about 15 percent of Republican voters. There's a lot of squishiness and moving around here. What's bad, though, for McCain - which is to say it can all change. What's bad for McCain, though, is that he used to have a kind of hard number, that despite the turmoil, people really stuck with him. And that seems to be eroding here, at least based on this one poll.

CHADWICK: You heard his speech yesterday. You were at VMI. Did you hear something new and significant about his support for the war? I'm not sure - were you at VMI, or did you hear it broadcast some way?

Mr. DICKERSON: I was not at VMI, but what I heard or what I read in the speech that was new was this. We know that the - Senator McCain is very much behind the president's troop surge and the new strategy, as he calls it, in Iraq. What he did that seemed different in this speech, though, was that he really took on the Democrats. He not only poked holes in their theory about the war and strategy, but he then talked about their motives, essentially saying anybody who's on the opposite of this question from him was really only concerned about the polls. And that's a shot at Democrats that's quite tough and that a lot of Republicans would like their candidates to be taking. So it may pay off politically for the senator.

CHADWICK: Your piece in Slate says that he did the full Cheney. But you go on to say he really went beyond what the vice president says, because both the vice president and President Bush usually throw in a line in their speeches saying I'm not going to question the motives of the Democrats, and Senator McCain did.

Mr. DICKERSON: That's exactly right. And you talk to the White House, and they've learned that lesson about questioning motives. And Senator McCain didn't have that caveat about his opponents. He had lots of caveats about the military progress in saying there's progress, but I'm not going to be overly optimistic, and it's going to be long and bloody. Lots of caveats when he talked about the military part of it. But when he talked about his opponents, there were no such caveats.

CHADWICK: So what does Senator McCain do to pull out of this? Who does he speak to? You know, independents, I think, have been a strong support of - strong supporters of his candidacy in important states.

Mr. DICKERSON: They have. And in the important states of New Hampshire and Michigan - I think what he does is he sticks with the organization he's set up. He's got lots of endurance in terms of - he's got people in all the various states. He lets this kind of bouncing around happen. And basically, also, he sticks to his guns, because I think its - having covered him for a very long time - he really does believe in this surge, and I think he is at peace with the idea that if he loses because he defends this thing that he feels so passionately about - and remember also that his son is set to go over to Iraq - if he sticks with that, then he'll be able to sleep at night. And if he loses the election because of it, I think he's okay with that.

CHADWICK: John Dickerson is chief political correspondent for the online magazine, Slate. You can read his piece on Senator McCain online at Slate.com. John, thanks again.

Mr. DICKERSON: Thank you, Alex.

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