Candidate Mccain Tries to Keep His Distance

John McCain's strategists are increasingly concerned about his ties to the White House and Pres. Bush.

By + More

President Bush's involvement in Sen. John McCain's campaign has a decided downside. In fact, John McCain's strategists are increasingly concerned about his ties to the White House, and they are looking for ways to distance the presumptive GOP presidential nominee from the unpopular incumbent. "The Democrats want to run against George Bush," says a senior McCain adviser. "We want to make it clear that they're running against John McCain. We have to make the case that he's been at odds with Bush on a lot of things." McCain backers point to the senator's criticism of initial mismanagement of the Iraq war, Bush's failure to cut domestic spending, and Bush's attempts to expand executive power. But the Arizona senator has some very close ties to Bush that might be liabilities. For example, McCain is a leading advocate of Bush's surge of U.S. troops into Iraq. And while that increase has quelled much of the violence, Americans remain ambivalent about the war, impatient for it to end even as they seek an honorable solution. "People feel it was a mistake, but people don't want to withdraw precipitously," the McCain adviser says.

Last week, McCain told reporters that if he fails to convince Americans the war is being won, the November election will be easy to predict: "I lose," he said. Then he second-guessed himself and asked if he could retract that statement. But reporters quoted him anyway.