John McCain just can’t quit Obama.
A fun pattern has emerged from the Arizona Republican’s Senate campaign, as he’s fought through a heated Republican primary challenge from former Rep. J.D. Hayworth. While McCain has certainly been dishing out the attacks on Hayworth, he’s also been rallying the Republican base by training his fire on another nemesis: President Barack Obama, the man who defeated him in the 2008 presidential election.
In many ways this makes sense. Obama is both a cause of and target for the conservative base’s ire, and anything that McCain can do to rally them on that basis should do him well. And as Larry Sabato once explained to us, McCain can be much more credible by being “Mr. Anti-Obama” than he can by being “Mr. Anti-Immigration” — though he has also tacked right on border security — and by pitching himself to Republican voters as the man most dedicated to foiling Obama’s plans for the country.
So let’s take a look at the anti-Obama theme that has run through McCain’s campaign.
- Early on in January, McCain ran a radio ad in which he said: “President Obama is leading an extreme left-wing crusade to bankrupt America. I stand in his way every day. If I get a bruise or two knocking some sense into heads in Washington, so be it. I’ll keep fighting for jobs and economic growth for Arizona, as long as I’m in the Senate.”
- The ‘08 campaign was dredged up again during the White House’s health care summit in February. As McCain insisted that the American people wanted Congress to “go back to the beginning” on health care legislation, Obama told him: “We’re not campaigning anymore. The election is over.”
McCain laughed uncomfortably: “I’m reminded of that every day.”
- The next day, McCain discussed the summit on Fox News, and tried knocking Obama again. “My impression is, that he’s very, very uncomfortable,” said McCain. “He really didn’t try to respond to the unsavory sausage making that went on in developing this health care reform bill.”
- And as soon as President Obama succeeded in getting the health care bill passed back in March, McCain immediately began fundraising for his campaign, on a promise that he would fight to repeal it. “I assure you I am not quitting our fight. I believe we must repeal this bill immediately,” McCain wrote. “I am currently working in every way possible on your behalf to accomplish this. However, I am facing a tough reelection campaign. If I am not reelected this year, I cannot fight for our shared values in the Senate. That’s why your immediate donation of any amount is so critical.”
- Also in March, when McCain held a big rally with his former running mate Sarah Palin, both of them took hits at the man who had defeated them. Palin tied Obama’s health care policies to Fidel Castro (for those of us on planet Earth, the two policies are drastically different). And McCain responded to a recent Obama speech, in which Obama dared Republicans to “go for it” and campaign on a platform of repealing the health care law. “We’re gonna ‘go for it,’ McCain said defiantly, to massive applause.
- A recent McCain ad boasted that the fight on border security was “A President versus a Senator.” Of course, that Senator and that President already faced off already — when the President was himself a Senator, and won the race.
- Earlier this month, McCain lambasted the president over his handling of the Iraq war, saying that Obama had opposed the surge strategy, and was now taking credit for its success. “He was so small-minded that he couldn’t give a moment’s credit to George W. Bush,” McCain said. “For him to claim credit for a quote ‘new strategy’ is bizarre.”
- And even when McCain’s not trying to talk about Obama, other people — especially reporters — bring the subject up. When the Weekly Standard asked McCain his opinion on the Muslim community center project near Ground Zero in New York City (he’s against it), they also asked him what Obama should do. “I don’t tell him what to say,” McCain responded. “He should say what he feels.”
Hayworth has also tried to use the 2008 election as a weapon against McCain. As he said during a debate: “John, if you had told the truth about Barack Obama the way you’re spreading falsehoods about me, you might be President of the United States right now.” It also seemed as if this line was intended to get McCain angry — but it didn’t. McCain kept his composure just fine, and has continued to pitch his credentials as Arizona’s most suitable anti-Obama candidate.
The TPM Poll Average for the Republican primary gives McCain a lead of 53.6%-32.1% over Hayworth. The primary will be held on August 24.