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McCain Must Seize Economic Issue While Democrats Fight On

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Last week, our firm, InsiderAdvantage, became the first independent pollster to indicate that Hillary Clinton was leading the Texas Democratic primary. After she won both Texas and Ohio, numerous GOP pundits were gleeful over the prospects of a likely Democratic battle all the way to the Democrats' convention this summer.


While conventional wisdom might suggest that such a protracted intraparty battle would give Republican John McCain lots of time to raise money and catch his breath, there is another side to the situation.

We are in a political season unlike any that we have seen in most of our lifetimes. People are watching political debates in numbers usually reserved for pop singing contests or television ballroom-dancing battles.

The Clinton-Obama war is providing both political junkies and everyday Americans with plenty of entertainment. And with no GOP contest to follow, the Democratic fight is truly the only show on the air. Neither uncomfortable press conferences with President Bush nor endless speculation about who might be the next Republican vice-presidential running mate will keep John McCain in the limelight.

McCain has been unfairly characterized as a man who does not understand economics, and who has been a lifelong traitor to conservative approaches to national economic policy.

With all due respect to those who deride him, let me recall my years as a partisan, and a very involved one. I recall that my friend Jack Kemp, who once campaigned for me, was never one to be viewed as anything but a bedrock conservative. He worked with a young John McCain on a conservative Republican economic agenda long before certain columnists and pundits darkened the doors of Washington, D.C.

I'll freely admit that McCain's failure to originally support the Bush tax cuts was a serious error, but I will also note that he truly was consistent with his longtime mantra that spending must be reigned in at the same time that taxes were cut.


McCain has good advisors and supporters -- as did Kemp -- who could serve as the nucleus of a dynamic economic summit in which the brightest minds of not only the GOP, but of a host of nonpartisan organizations, could meet to determine a realistic and dynamic plan to turn our nation's economy around; not just for a year, but for many years to come.

Has anyone noticed that Hillary Clinton, who clearly seized on the economy and her asserted experience in dealing with "hard times" to appeal to voters in Ohio, is using the slogan "Solutions for America." I bring this up because former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich left the presidential race behind in favor of his think-tank effort called "American Solutions."

My advice to John McCain would be to get together "the old gang" that basically pushed the Reagan economic policies of the 1980s -- the Gingrichs, Kemps and others of that era -- and add to that roster some people with fresh views on the future of our economy. It should be a serious undertaking.

If these men and women sequestered themselves away, be it for a week or a month, and produced an entirely new and innovative way of dealing with both taxation and government spending, they would do their candidate the biggest favor imaginable.

First, they would appear to acknowledge that we are in big economic trouble, versus a president who last week seemed shocked that gas prices could rise to $4 a gallon, and who dismissed any possibility of recession. That only confirms the notion of a Republican Party that is out of touch.


Second, such an effort, if more than simply window dressing, could attract the attention of many independent voters who appreciate Obama and Clinton's interest in the economic plight of Americans, but who aren't necessarily convinced that they offer any concrete answers.

Hanging his hat on the success of The Surge in Iraq is risky business for McCain. And it seems silly to waste his undisputed record as the enemy of federal budget earmarks -- unjustified pork for individual lawmakers' states. That valuable political commodity is obscured by endless talk of Iraq; it leads to a media drumbeat that economics just isn't McCain's cup of tea.

"Seize the day," goes the Latin maxim. If McCain and his party don't, they will find this special political holiday they now enjoy to be have been wasted time; particularly when they are left facing the inevitable Democratic ticket that, in one order or another, will include both the names Clinton and Obama.

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