McCain's Political Gamble

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In the early maneuvering for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, the front-runner may be running a big risk. It will not be a smooth run for Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

McCain has staked out an outspoken position of calling for at least as many troops for Iraq as President Bush has ordered, if not more. He has held that position for some time.

Perhaps the senior senator from Arizona is trying to have it both ways. He can always contend that he was for more troops years ago and was an early voice in seeking Donald Rumsfeld's dismissal at the Pentagon. He could argue that we could have prevailed had we gone in with a superior force.

However, that call for an even bigger surge in Iraq runs counter today to where most Americans find themselves. McCain is consistent, but is he consistently wrong?

No one challenges his credentials. His courage in the seven-plus years of confinement at the Hanoi Hilton is enough evidence. And he has run for president already and has had an experienced career in the Senate.

However, his race against Bush in 2000 is another possible hurdle. Although Bush has made a mess of things in six years, some right-wing Republicans resented McCain's challenge at the time. That brand of Republican likes things tidy; McCain was considered a troublemaker.

McCain's Straight Talk Express was popular even though Bush defeated him with help from a filthy campaign by the Bush folks in South Carolina.

Recall, too, that Democratic Sen. John Kerry sought McCain as a running mate in 2004 on a fusion ticket. Many Republicans raised an eyebrow.

McCain isn't scaring off any opposition, either. Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney are almost certain rivals who can probably match him in money-raising totals.

Also, Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas is another voice apt to run from the right along with the marginal candidates such as former Gov. Jim Gilmore of Virginia and Rep. Duncan Hunter of California. All three see no real conservative in the top rung.

The bottom line is that McCain is riding high on the rather meaningless polls now. But he has a long way to go for that nomination in the Twin Cities in the summer of '08.