The presidential race is sure looking like it will be Democratic Sen. Barack Obama versus Republican Sen. John McCain. Team Obama is no doubt overjoyed, having already run with the "yesterday versus the future" rhetoric that is typical for a fight between a charismatic 46-year-old and a 71-year-old Vietnam War veteran. But Team McCain, despite its outreach problems even among the GOP's base, needn't despair. Obama, a senator in only his third year, can be beaten. If only McCain would try.
Just days after Chris Matthews reported experiencing a thrill up his leg when Obama spoke, the "Hardball" host lambasted a Texas legislator who braved the MSNBC talking-heads show to do his part in support of Obama's campaign.
Matthews was merciless: "What has he accomplished, sir? You say you support him. Sir, you have to give me his accomplishments. You've supported him for president. You are on national television. Name his legislative accomplishments. Barack Obama. Sir."
The poor local pol's answer was instructive (and accurate): "Well, I'm not going to be able to name you specific items of legislative accomplishments."
Matthews pressed on: "Can you name any? Can you name anything he's accomplished as a congressman?"
The local pol: "No, I'm not going to be able to do that tonight."
Matthews: "Well, that is a problem isn't it?"
It sure is. McCain has both an authority that comes with real experience in Washington and a good-old-boy likeability to anyone who's not working with him (he's known for outbursts in the Senate), plus he doesn't have the high negatives his colleague Sen. Hillary Clinton suffers from, perhaps fatally. McCain can adopt the "ready from day one" meme the former first lady has unconvincingly and patronizingly used with Democratic primary voters. He can do it with a legitimacy Clinton never has had.
After winning the Wisconsin primary the following week, McCain took aim at Obama. He declared: "I will fight every moment of every day in this campaign to make sure Americans are not deceived by an eloquent but empty call for change ... that promises no more than a holiday from history and a return to the false promises and failed policies of a tired philosophy that trusts in government more than the people. Our purpose is to keep this blessed country free, safe, prosperous and proud. And the changes we offer to the institutions and policies of government will reflect and rely upon the strength, industry, aspirations and decency of the people we serve."
For all his faults, Rudy Giuliani -- when it came to terrorist surveillance -- was clear and unrelenting. He talked like the prosecutor he once was, tracking down and convicting mobsters. Maybe McCain needs a talking to the next time Rudy does a campaign appearance for him. If McCain means what he says, he needs to fight the whole war. He can convince the nation he belongs in the White House, but he's going have to lead on security, both foreign and domestic, to do it.