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McCain is on the rise

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As Mitt Romney steps up his attacks on John McCain in New Hampshire, some observers, of different stripes, are calling the Arizona senator the best bet -- if he wins the GOP nomination -- to claim the presidency in 2008:

Steven Stark in the Phoenix:

McCain would bring a number of advantages to a general-election campaign. He’s been in the national-election eye the longest, so he’s well known and trusted — passing the presidential-threshold test by a mile. He’s a national hero of sorts. And, he’s perceived as enough of a maverick that he would appeal to some Democrats and independents. His weaknesses would be his age (he’d be the oldest person ever initially elected to the presidency), and the fact that his soft immigration stand might attract a third-party anti-immigration candidate. Still, despite his lukewarm showing in current GOP polls, he began this whole cycle as the strongest potential candidate in a general election, and he remains so — as long as it continues to appear that the war effort has turned a corner.

Robert Novak in the Chicago Sun-Times (h/t the Page):

Sen. John McCain, given up for dead a few weeks ago as he ran a cash-starved, disorganized campaign, today is viewed by canny Republican professionals as the best bet to win the party's presidential nomination. What's more, they consider him their most realistic prospect to buck the overall Democratic tide and win the general election. Indeed, if Mike Huckabee holds on to actually win the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses, the road forward could be clear for McCain.

Mitt Romney's lavishly financed, meticulously organized campaign always has operated with a thin margin of error based on winning Iowa and then the New Hampshire primary five days later. If Romney loses to Huckabee in Iowa, he becomes vulnerable to McCain in New Hampshire. If McCain wins there, he will be favored to sweep through subsequent primaries despite meager finances and organization.

This scenario does not connote a late-blooming affection for McCain among the party faithful. Indeed, he remains suspect to them on global warming, stem cell research, tax policy and immigration controls, not to mention his original sin of campaign finance reform. Rather, his nomination would result from his being the last man standing. Rudy Giuliani's baggage is getting too heavy to carry. Fred Thompson never got started. Huckabee's Republicanism is even less orthodox than McCain's and seems unviable beyond Iowa. Romney is burdened with anti-Mormon prejudice and the accusation that he's ''plastic.''

McCain's return from oblivion also suggests a personal determination that was demonstrated during six years of torture and solitary confinement in a communist prison. Beginning the year as the GOP's putative establishment candidate, McCain presided over a spendthrift, ineffective campaign. His decline climaxed, however unfairly, when he came over as the apostle of immigration amnesty. Despite a free-fall in the polls and the inability to raise funds, McCain has impressed the political community with six months of tireless grass-roots campaigning.

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