McCain's Ball and Chain

After he has spent more than five years meticulously building a second presidential campaign, this one meant to carry him over the finish line, it's hard to believe Sen. John McCain's candidacy has stumbled so badly. With money drying up and poll numbers falling, McCain has found ever since the midterm elections of 2006 that his support for the Iraq war is a ball and chain following him wherever he goes. As he drags it around it drags him down but doesn't seem to hold back Rudy Giuliani or Mitt Romney, both of whom supported the recent troop increase right along with McCain.

On Sunday, McCain began a public-relations offensive he hopes will help redefine him as the right leader on the country's most difficult issue. With a Washington Post editorial, a "60 Minutes" interview and an upcoming speech at the Virginia Military Institute, McCain is making his case for finishing the job in Iraq. Though he has campaigned in primary states, McCain has not had much national visibility in recent months, and during this time polls have indicated a majority has begun to support a withdrawal from Iraq. McCain knows he is pushing a political boulder up the side of a mountain. He is asking voters not to agree with him but to trust his position and his leadership. With some luck and skill his new strategy just may help him. He must hope that the surge produces a few more promising signs on the ground. But McCain must also hone his straight talk to articulate, better than President Bush, the threat to the Middle East and to the United States he believes would result from our withdrawal in Iraq.

Watching McCain soldier on is painful but impressive. His insistence on sticking by his war position without waffling is admirable. He has said he would rather win a war than a campaign, and he should keep saying it. Being blunt has always worked well for McCain, and people connect with honesty, even when they disagree. Voters need to feel McCain is one of them, not tuned out from public opinion the way they believe Bush is.

McCain still has a shot of returning to the front of the pack. Giuliani and Romney have profound liabilities, and one can see why McCain believes that after their stumbles he could be the last man standing. He is right to try this; he has nothing left to lose.