Tonight: The 10 White Men

Tonight at the Reagan Library the GOP presidential candidates, known as the 10 White Men, all hope they will have a chance to break away from the pack. We are sure to hear much gushing about their hero, Ronald Reagan, and some awkward statements about the current Republican president, George W. Bush. But to make an impact the candidates clearly need to talk about themselves, and  to do a good job of it.

This task is hardest for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) who has built his career as a politician defined by his independence — that is, until recent years, when he has become defined by his contradictions. All eyes are on him tonight as the former frontrunner fighting to regain his momentum. To win, candidate McCain must become someone beyond the guy who infuriated conservatives and opposed Bush, then the guy who embraced conservatives and Bush.

For the first time in months McCain is topping the field in a new poll by the American Research Group Inc. that showed him up in all three early-primary states: Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. Rudy Giuliani wasn't even close to McCain in this poll.

But the interesting data didn't involve the candidates but the Iraq war. The survey showed 75 percent of Republican primary voters believe the United States can win in Iraq while only 17 percent of Democratic primary voters do. The numbers supporting and opposing withdrawal from Iraq nearly match the "can/cannot win" numbers. This means McCain's poster-child-for-war status can't hurt him now, even though it will if he becomes the nominee. The only posture that helps him in the primaries and prepares him for the general election is that of a reformer and agent of change. Tonight he plans to distance himself from Bush even as the other candidates try not to. McCain must be careful not just to be the anti-Bush for those primary voters distrustful of him but still loyal to the president. He must offer something better. It will be a high-wire walk indeed.

More in Presidential races

Giuliani: Jeb is the GOP front-runner

Read more »