And it was George H.W. Bush and Lee Atwater who turned a 17-point deficit as of Aug. 1, 1988, into an eight-point lead Bush never lost on Labor Day -- by eviscerating Michael Dukakis on the social and cultural issues: Dukakis' veto of a Pledge-of-Allegiance-to-the-Flag bill, his opposition to capital punishment, his pride in being "a card-carrying member of the ACLU," his weekend furloughs for convicted criminals and killers like Willy Horton.
Bush lost the presidency in 1992 when, under fire, he retreated from the social and cultural issues and sought to win on foreign policy, and on the economy, where his approval rating was 16 percent.
In 1992, cultural, social and moral issues could have derailed Clinton, which is why James Carville told the War Room to stay laser-focused. "It's the economy, stupid!" Bush and James Baker deemed social and cultural issues unworthy of a president. And so it was that George H.W. Bush ceased to be president.
His son did not make that mistake. In the primaries and general election in 2000, Bush embraced the Christian conservatives and their agenda.
Since Pennsylvania, Barack has recognized this deficiency and sought to portray himself as a reflexive patriot who enjoys a bottle of Bud just like the next guy, a kid raised in poverty by a single mom, who turned his back on Wall Street offers to fight for steelworkers laid off when their mills closed in South Chicago and moved to China.
McCain, a war hero and POW, is a natural for Middle Pennsylvania and Middle Ohio. His problems, however, are these:
He is failing to energize the Republican base, one-fourth of which is still voting against him in primaries. On the great populist issues of 2008 -- outsourcing of American jobs to Mexico, Asia and China, and the illegal alien invasion -- he stands foursquare with K Street -- for amnesty and NAFTA -- and against Main Street.
And like Gerald Ford and Bob Dole, McCain recoils from cultural and social issues. He berated Tarheel Republicans for linking Barack, the Rev. Wright and local Democrats, and denounced a conservative talk show host who introduced him for mocking Barack's middle name.
This may solidify McCain's standing with his core constituency, the liberal commentariat. But these folks will depart in the fall. And the Republican base and the Hillary Democrats had better be there, or McCain will do what moderate Republicans nominees do best. Lose gracefully.
Keep an eye on West Virginia. The votes Hillary gets, and the way she gets them, may provide a road map for how the GOP can hold the White House this fall, if they are not too squeamish to follow it.