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McCain Plays to Strengths « The Washington Independent

Image has not been found. URL: http://www.washingtonindependent.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/mccainrnccrop-300x200.jpgSen. John McCain (Photo by Lauren Victoria Burke, wdcpix.com)

Image has not been found. URL: http://www.washingtonindependent.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/08/politics.jpgIllustration by: Matt Mahurin

McCain, 72, had arrived in the Twin Cities with much to prove. The self-described maverick has never been a favorite among the conservative base of his own party — despite repeated overtures. His past ability to work with some of the most liberal senators, like Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), had only increased the ire of many influential members of the GOP. That both Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Joe Biden, the Democratic Party’s almost and current vice-presidential nominees, have called him a friend, only reinforced his lack of conservative cred among the GOP base.

But the Republican Party could be ready to overlook all this. “They’re past their differences,” said Sara Taylor, a former White House political director in the Bush administration. “You can see the excitement in the hall. They understand national security is going to matter a lot for the country — and they understand John McCain is part of that future.”

McCain’s selection of the uber-conservative Palin as his running mate did much to quell the conservative backlash. But now it was his turn to prove that the man eviscerated by George W. Bush and Karl Rove during the 2000 South Carolina primary was truly one of them.

McCain’s task last night was to energize the core of the party and reach out to independents — in the same fashion Obama had done last week. He would have to do what he had regularly mocked his opponent for doing: For one night he would have to do what he’s least good at — speak before a large audience and rock the house.

But more precarious was the lingering legacy of George W. Bush. McCain had to play to the base while disowning the legacy of Bush. Even as he acknowledged Bush at the opening, McCain had to make a quick pivot away from president with the lowest poll rating in U.S. history.

How in God’s name does the party in power become the party of change? And how could McCain restore a Republican brand that’s become synonymous with corruption, urban neglect and a war policy gone terribly wrong?

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