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Starting Gate: McCain's Messes

(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
It's not easy being the Republican presidential nominee this year and, while John McCain may be the best candidate the party could have selected in such a tough environment, being a "maverick" comes with its own set of challenges.

In part, McCain's challenge is to demonstrate that he's a "different kind of Republican" – meaning, not George W. Bush. Because of his up-and-down past relationship with the president, his tendency to buck the party's core bases on certain issues and his appeal to independent voters, he's already got a head start. But how can he keep it all together?

After setting out to put some distance between himself and his party's image with a speech on global warming, McCain was hammered by conservative talk radio show hosts like Rush Limbaugh for caving into what they see as another big government grab. These are the same voices that rallied around Mitt Romney during the primary season when it became apparent he was the only candidate with a chance to defeat McCain. Far from being healed, those divisions appear to be festering and could erupt at any time.

McCain may end up being the beneficiary of the dust up between President Bush and Barack Obama over the president's "appeasement" comments in Israel yesterday if the episode succeeds in raising concerns about Obama's foreign policy experience. But any benefit McCain accrues from that might be tempered if it appears he's party to any "attack" politics that seem out of style in this cycle.

And California's Supreme Court didn't do him any favors with its decision legalizing gay marriage in the Golden State. While both McCain and Obama have similar positions on the issue, it's McCain who stands to be harmed politically with the resurrection of an issue which has marginally helped his party in the past. McCain will face pressure again from conservatives to support a federal marriage amendment – a move that could limit his appeal to those independent voters expected to be a key block in the fall.

The best chance for Republicans to maintain control of the White House is to let McCain be McCain, as the saying goes. Exactly what that means is harder to figure out all the time.

Edwards Out? John Edwards sounded nearly Shermanesque about the vice presidential slot in his "Early Show" interview this morning. Asked if he would consider taking the second slot for the second straight cycle, Edwards responded: "No. I'm not interested. I just don't have any interest in it. I've done that. What I want to do is try to get Senator Obama elected."

Loading Up: From CBS News' John Bentley: John McCain will speak at the National Rifle Association's annual meeting this afternoon, an influential group in Republican politics that McCain has had a rocky relationship with in the past. The NRA was opposed to McCain's efforts at campaign-finance reform and mandatory background checks at gun shows, but they have since softened their stance towards him.

"We've had our disagreements, everybody knows it," NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre told The Associated Press. "I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree on those. We're not foolish enough to ignore the vast areas of agreement in which John McCain has been a friend to gun owners."

Around The Track

  • The Tennessee Republican Party welcomed Michelle Obama to their state with a four-minute YouTube video describing why they are "proud" of America. The video plays off of Mrs. Obama's remarks earlier this year in which she said, "For the first time in
    my adult life, I am really proud of my country." She was in Tennessee for a fund-raiser.
  • The Politico reports that GOP strategist Craig Shirley has been ousted from the McCain campaign because of ties to an independent "527" group.
  • Rep. Tom Davis, the former chairman of the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee, lays out his grave assessment in a memo to Republican leaders. Here's a snippet: "The political atmosphere facing House Republicans this November is the worst since Watergate and is far more toxic than the fall of 2006 when we lost 30 seats (and our majority) and came within a couple of percentage points of losing another fifteen seats. Whether measured by polls, open seats, money, voter registration, generic ballot, Presidential popularity or issues, our party faces a steep climb to maintain our current numbers."
  • Hillary Clinton campaigns in Oregon today.