My original prediction for the 2008 presidential election more than 15 months ago was 57-43 for the Democrat.
There's a decent chance that will stand up because John McCain is such a weak candidate.
This week's blow-up over Vicki Iseman underlines McCain's essential vulnerability.
The Candidate from Default, Arizona. Fundamentally, McCain is a default candidate of the Republican Party. First McCain, then Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson, and finally Mitt Romney were tried on by Republican voters before being discarded like cheap shirts. Of all the Republican candidates, McCain was not as unlikeable as Romney and not as ridiculous as "Rudy's Next Mistress" Giuliani or "Hard-Working" Fred Thompson.
Republican voters didn't really want him, but they ultimately decided to pick "Good-Old John" McCain off the floor and make him their nominee--by default.
The Democrats have a much better default candidate in Hillary Clinton. But it looks like the Dems are finding Barack Obama so electrifying that we're going to reach beyond the known in nominating our presidential candidate.
If there's one thing the nation knows about John McCain: he's no Barack Obama.
Sleeping with Lobbyists. In 2000, Vicki Iseman was a 32 year-old lobbyist who did not look like she had had her first plastic surgery yet. She might have had a face-lift or two since then though. There seems to be broad agreement among the MSM, right-wing blogs, and liberal bloggers that McCain probably did not have an affair with Iseman and that it might not have mattered if he did because McCain's connections with lobbyists or lying is the real issue.
I beg to differ.
McCain was in deep enough with Ms. Iseman that his staffers talked with him several times about the impropriety of their relationship and finally confronted her. The left blogs are saying that the problem was that McCain's connection with Iseman as a lobbyist wasn't consistent with his image as a reformer. But McCain is someone who is clearly comfortable with lobbyists. His main campaign guy for 2000 and 2008, Rick Davis, is a lobbyist. Longtime GOP lobbying bigshot Charlie Black is running his lobbying business from the back of McCain's bus this year. For his campaign people to confront him about the relationship with Iseman, they had to think Iseman was doing something besides lobbying McCain.
Convinced the relationship had become romantic, some of his top advisers intervened to protect the candidate from himself — instructing staff members to block the woman’s access, privately warning her away and repeatedly confronting him, several people involved in the campaign said on the condition of anonymity.
I'll admit there's a chance that there was no sexual fire behind the smoke between McCain and Iseman. But not much of a chance.
My opinion is that the sexual innuendo involved in l'affaire Iseman has really damaged John McCain's candidacy. The idea of McCain having sex with a lobbyist resonates in a lot of ways. If the Obama campaign means anything, it means that Democrats, moderates, and independent voters want a clean break from the last generation of politics. McCain's involvement with Iseman is so damaging because it illustrates just how deeply McCain is tied to "the politics of the past."
First, there's the fact that McCain's an old-looking 71. The media always prints pictures of McCain that make him look younger and more vigorous than he really is. But it isn't working. One of the main knocks I hear about McCain is that he's "so" old and stories of him sleeping with a "40 year old lobbyist" reminds people of his age in a visceral and creepy kind of way.
Perhaps worse, the idea of an affair with Vicki Iseman reminds voters of the influence of big money over the last generation of office-holders in Washington. It reminds voters of the "old politics" of influence and corruption during Bill Clinton's and George W. Bush's presidencies. By raising his money primarily from the internet, Obama represents a break from "the politics of the past." In being seen as "sleeping with a lobbyist," McCain becomes a powerful embodiment of things about the past that voters want to think they're getting away from.
The other area where his involvement with Vicki Iseman hurts McCain is that it reminds voters of their disdain for Republican hypocrisy. The idea that McCain's in bed with a lobbyist who's young enough to be his daughter reminds voters of all the affairs that moralistic Republicans ranging from Newt Gingrich to Bob Livingston to Rudy Giuliani have had. People don't like adultery, but they especially dislike adultery from the party of evangelical sanctimony. McCain's never been an evangelical and he hasn't made much of an effort to fake it, but Iseman reminds many voters of their contempt for the influence of the religious right in the Republican Party.
The Monster Under McCain's Bed. The worst thing about the whole Iseman affair for McCain is that he has a lot of enemies and they look like they could be dishing dirt on McCain throughout the fall campaign. One of the amazing things about George W. Bush's 2000 presidential campaign was that Bush had never had enough of a falling out with his fraternity brothers, drinking buddies, or business associates that any of them talked to the media about Bush's days as a hard-drinking, coke-sniffing, party guy.
Not so with John McCain. As David Brooks points out, the person who went to the Times with this story had to have been in McCain's inner circle. Brooks speculates that the problem is the long-standing rivalry between mainstream McCain loyalists like campaign manager Rick Davis and reformist loyalists like John Weaver, but what matters here is that people who have grudges against John McCain have proven that they're willing to take their anger out by reporting embarrassing stories to the media.
This could be the real monster under McCain's bed. Given McCain's self-righteous tilting against the politics of money, his sucking up to the media, his volcanic temper, and the fact that he's been a Senator for 24 years, there must be a lot of people out there who with axes to grind against him. Seen from this perspective, the New York Times story on McCain's involvement with Vicki Iseman might be the first in a long series of juicy revelations about John McCain from the people who have scores to settle.
It could be a long nine months to the election for John McCain.