As John McCain gains extensive publicity for his cross-country "biography tour" this week, new research by the Democratic National Committee suggests that he may be marching in the wrong direction as he highlights his military background.
Focus groups conducted among swing voters in Minnesota and West Virginia "indicate that Senator John McCain is a candidate who, in many important respects, is seriously out of sync and out of step with the characteristics and priorities that voters are seeking in a president this year," according to a memo summarizing the research for the DNC.
Swing voters know little about his positions on domestic issues they care most about, such as the economy and healthcare. When his views are explained in terms the Democratic Party plans to use in the fall campaign, these swing voters see him as "someone who has a backward-looking approach and who is badly out of touch with the realities average people face in their lives today," according to the memo authored by DNC communications director Karen Finney, research director Mike Gehrke, and political director David Boundy. And McCain is seen as an extension of the policies of the unpopular President George W. Bush.
The memo provides insights not only into McCain's perceived vulnerabilities but into the tactics the Democrats plan to use against him in the fall.
Among the findings are that voters are particularly displeased with McCain's opposition to the expansion of a program providing health insurance to poor children; his support for free-trade agreements; his statements that the nation is better off economically than it was eight years ago despite the current downturn, and "his past admissions of knowing less about the details of economic policy than about national security issues."
The DNC memo also said, "Focus group panelists throughout these sessions make it clear that they do not want another president like George W. Bush who will put the war in Iraq above all other national priorities. John McCain provides a lot of cues to these voters that he would be very much like President Bush in this respect."
McCain has also hurt himself badly by courting conservative support and seeming to become less independent, the memo said.
Advisers to McCain say his military background will prove to be an important asset in showing he is best prepared to be commander in chief. They add that his Democratic rivals are too liberal on domestic issues and favor increased taxes and an unwise expansion of federal power. They also say that McCain is his own man and won't simply adopt all of President Bush's agenda.