Political insiders of all stripes will be watching closely when John McCain give his high-stakes speech on Iraq today at Virginia Military Institute. McCain advisers say it will be one of the Arizona senator's biggest moments so far in the evolving campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.
In previews offered over the past few days, McCain insiders said the address will emphasize that the Iraq war is winnable, that slow but definite progress is being made, and that defeat would be a "catastrophe" for the United States and the Middle East. A loss, McCain will say, would give terrorists a breeding ground for more attacks on the United States and set back the causes of peace and democracy in the region.
"McCain's campaign is tied to Iraq," says GOP strategist who hasn't signed on with any campaign for '08. "He's trying to find a way to make it a net positive for him." That will be tough, at least among Democrats and independent voters who were McCain fans when he ran for president in 2000 but have since turned against the war.
But McCain advisers point out, correctly, that a large majority of Republicans still support the war and endorse McCain's goal of victory. Those are the voters who will decide the GOP presidential nominee in next year's caucuses and primaries, and they will be the main target of McCain's speech.
Among those voters, McCain's support for the war is actually a plus that shows his resolve and strength of character. At least that's what the McCain forces are betting on as they struggle to pull him out of the doldrums.
By Kenneth T. Walsh