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Does It Have To Be Bush/Cheney?

Dotty Lynch is CBSNews.com's Political Points columnist. E-mail your questions and comments to Political Points.
Later this week the first cattle call of 2008 Republican Presidential wannabes will take place in Memphis, Tennessee. Flocking to the Southern Republican Leadership Conference will be George Allen, Sam Brownback, home state Doc Bill Frist, Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney and the current leader of the pack, John McCain and well as scores of national political reporters. The pièce de résistance - a straw poll - will be conducted by the political digest Hotline.

The meeting comes at a time when the Republican Party is in deep angst over the president's job ratings and the public's raging anti-Washington mood. While many Republicans are looking ahead to 2008, it is hard for them to ignore the hurdle looming in front of many of them and their colleagues for this coming November: how to maintain their majority in the 2006 elections.

Last week a slew of polls were released showing President Bush with a job approval rating somewhere between 34 and 40 percent and the opinion of Congress even worse with a 28 percent favorable rating. The Vice President's positive rating was down to 18 percent in the CBS poll, a number which the Washington Post discovered was topped (or is it bottomed?) only by Paris Hilton's 15% in a Gallup poll last summer.

The conservative magazine Insight recently published a much-noticed piece based entirely on "anonymous sources" that the Vice President planned to step down after the 2006 elections: "Senior GOP sources envision the retirement of Mr. Cheney in 2007, months after the congressional elections," said Insight, in its Feb. 27th issue. "The sources said Mr. Cheney would be persuaded to step down as he becomes an increasing political liability to President Bush."

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Exactly who floated this story and why the magazine reported it is a matter for greater minds than me but Insight is not the New York Times and there is clearly distress in the ranks over Mr. Cheney's role in the Iraq war and the CIA leak investigation - not to mention l'affaire Harry.

The polls also included some interesting data on another Republican politician. In the dark sea of bad news for Republicans, John McCain stands out as its shining light. The George Washington University Battleground Poll conducted by Republican pollster Ed Goeas and Democratic pollster Celina Lake found that while the public is gloomy about almost every national politician — Democratic as well as Republican — John McCain has a 65 percent positive and an 18 percent negative rating.

Pollster Goeas says that Republicans should latch on to McCain to turnaround public sentiment on the party. "McCain, his reputation as a maverick tirelessly working to reform the culture of Washington appears to be exactly what voters want," Goeas writes. He then goes on to show that McCain is popular with Democrats and Independents as well as Republicans, liberals and conservatives. "Clearly as Republicans attempt to rebuild their image and seize the mantle as the party most committed to congressional and lobbying reform, Senator McCain will be a valuable leader for this cause."

So here's an idea: if Bush dumps Cheney — or allows him to go away gracefully — why not replace him with McCain? And why wait for 2007? Now is when the Republicans need a savior and who better than St. John the Crusader?

Political analyst Charlie Cook says that any Republican with half a brain will stay away from Bush. Given public assessments of the Bush administration not only should they "just say no" to the vice presidency, Cook says, but in 2008 they need to vow to take the party and country in a "non-Bush direction."

But McCain has been spending a lot of time cozying up to old Bush supporters. Bush media consultant and buddy Mark McKinnon is whispering in his ear and McCain is wooing Bush Pioneers to try to smooth ruffled feathers left over from the 2000 campaign.

Recent VPs tend to get party nominations and recently, on the Republican side, they have done pretty well winning the White House. While John McCain has told both George Bush and John Kerry thanks but no thanks to this job, might not this be the time for all good men to come to the aid of their party?

McCain is known for bold, courageous moves. What better way to show you love your party and are willing to do time in the White House mess with Karl Rove to rescue them from oblivion. That might prove once and for all that John McCain is the real "reformer with results."
By Dotty Lynch

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