The remarkable performance of John McCain in the past few months has rightly garnered a lot of attention. Time was, not so long ago, when he was just one of several contenders for the Republican presidential nomination, along with Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee and Fred Thompson, and not necessarily the front-runner at that. His support for illegal immigrants had turned off a lot of conservative Republicans, and his general reputation as a maverick didn't help, either.
And yet, before so much as a single primary has been held, one after another of his rivals has dropped from contention, and today McCain stands alone as the inevitable nominee of his party. That fact is primarily attributable to his sheer steadfastness. Say what you will about him, there is clearly a man there -- a determined, thoughtful and generally attractive candidate with a formidable record as a military hero. The Democrats, who are still locked in an unseemly brawl between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, recognize McCain as the man they will have to beat, and they know very well that it won't be easy.
This is all the more remarkable because, in the almost unanimous view of political observers, 2008 ought to be a "Democratic year." The Republicans have held the White House for the past seven (soon to be eight), and controlled Congress for all but two of them. They have embroiled the nation in an unpopular war in Iraq, and while the economy isn't as badly off as the Democrats and their media supporters like to assert, it is teetering on the brink of a recession. By all odds, the outcome in November favors the Democrats -- or would, if McCain weren't doing so devilishly well. Recent polls show him running neck and neck with either Clinton or Obama.
There is no point in exaggerating his strength. It seems almost certain that the Democrats will continue to control Congress after November, even if McCain manages to claim the presidency. But the wonder is that McCain is in contention at all. By rights he should have little more chance of winning the presidency than his fellow Republicans have of controlling Congress.
In addition to McCain's undeniable appeal, one factor working against the Democrats is almost surely the relative weakness of their possible candidates.
William Rusher is a Distinguished Fellow of the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy and author of How to Win Arguments .
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