Will McCain endorsements sway GOP voters?
By Carl Leubsdorf
The endorsements of three key newspapers and independent Sen. Joe Lieberman is giving renewed energy to Sen. John McCain's uphill Republican presidential bid.
They came at a time when, by most recent measures, he remains an also-ran in the kickoff Iowa caucuses, though a clear contender in his bid to repeat his 2000 triumph in New Hampshire.
Endorsements from newspapers as varied as The Des Moines Register, The Boston Globe and the New Hampshire Union Leader reflect the Arizona senator's strong personal attributes and two aspects that seem especially important this year — a reputation for leading on tough issues and seeking solutions across party lines.
To be sure, he still has a propensity for impolitic comments, like accusing the two top congressional Democrats of "a lack of patriotism." But the qualities those papers stressed explain why McCain remains the class of a GOP field notable for negativism and inconsistency.
Increased display of those attributes has damaged former Gov. Mitt Romney, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Sen. Fred Thompson and helped fuel a surge for Mike Huckabee's more positive approach.
But the former Arkansas governor remains a political long shot. He brings limited experience at a time when a complex world scene demands a president with greater national and international experience than seemed necessary in 1992 and 2000, when voters chose inexperienced governors.
In endorsing McCain, the three newspapers stressed the former Vietnam prisoner of war's experience and leadership.
The Union Leader said the next president "will have to be ready to take command of the United States armed forces and make life-or-death decisions starting on day one.
"McCain is by far the most informed candidate on military and foreign affairs," it said.
No other candidate, The Des Moines Register noted, "can offer the tested leadership, in matters foreign and domestic."
"McCain is most ready to lead America in a complex and dangerous world and to rebuild trust at home and abroad by restoring confidence in his leadership," it wrote.
The Register and The Globe boards acknowledged that they didn't necessarily support all of his views. The Globe described him "as a conservative whose views differ from this editorial page in a variety of ways," citing his opposition to abortion rights, his support for maintaining the Bush tax cuts and his backing of the Iraq war.
But it also noted that he "has never been an uncritical booster" of Bush policies and said one of his "great virtues is his willingness to acknowledge unpleasant realities," like the undue influence of money in politics, global warming and use of torture on prisoners.
The Register noted that McCain "can be hot-tempered," a trait shown in a weekend interview with The Wall Street Journal in which he assailed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for their "lack of patriotism" on Iraq. As usual, he quickly said he might have been too harsh, revising his comments to accuse them of "putting political ambitions ahead of the national interest."
The Register listed other issues on which it disagreed with McCain but added, "Americans would know what they're getting" because "on tough calls he usually lands on the side of goodness — of compassion for illegal immigrants, of concern for the environment."
Some Republicans will discount the endorsements of liberal editorial boards, but they don't change McCain's solidly conservative voting record. Others will say his leadership has led to flawed proposals, as on comprehensive immigration reform.
But unlike GOP rivals who have sought to pander to the party's right wing, McCain has sought realistic solutions to festering problems, like immigration and campaign finance.
Lieberman's endorsement, while largely rooted in agreement on Iraq, reflects how McCain has sought to bridge partisan divisions, an absolute necessity if the next president is to succeed.
Only the upcoming caucus and primary results will show if these qualities persuaded enough Republican voters.
Carl P. Leubsdorf is Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News. Reach him at email@example.com.
Make a difference. Donate to The Advertiser Christmas Fund.