McCain will try to rebrand GOP in his image
Candidate likely to cast himself as outsider
ST. PAUL, Minn. – When he steps to the lectern at the Xcel Energy Center tonight to accept the Republican presidential nomination, Sen. John McCain will face an immediate comparison to an opponent known for his soaring rhetoric who delivered his own speech to a football stadium full of people and a television audience of 38 million. And that is the easy part.
The more difficult challenge McCain has set for himself with his acceptance speech, according to friends and senior advisers, is to recalibrate the central message of his campaign and the line of attack he plans to use against Sen. Barack Obama in the two months before Election Day.
McCain will seek to recast the Republican Party’s brand in his own maverick image, staking his claim to the presidency on a depiction of himself as a political renegade in an attempt to overcome what he will paint as his opponent’s more ephemeral call for change.
The self portrayal is nothing new, as what animates McCain has never really been in question. But his campaign has veered repeatedly from that core message during the past 18 months as he battled fellow Republicans for the nomination and then turned his attention to Obama.
For weeks, he has rallied the party’s base with calls for increased oil drilling and pledges of fealty on abortion. His selection last week of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate effectively finished that job, energizing lukewarm conservatives and evangelical voters. On the stump, McCain has attacked Obama relentlessly as too inexperienced to be president. But that argument has faded as Palin’s own credentials have been questioned. Now, McCain has doubled down on the maverick theme, touting his new running mate as an upstart reformer in his own image, and casting the ticket as more willing to challenge the way Washington works than Obama and his running mate, Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware.
Jill Hazelbaker, McCain’s spokeswoman, said the address will focus on “the maverick piece, the independence piece,” and said the senator from Arizona will describe for independents and Democrats “how he arrived at his decisions, his history of shaking up the status quo, working across the aisle.”
Mark Salter, McCain’s alter ego and longtime book collaborator, began circulating drafts of the speech to a handful of senior aides eight weeks ago. Since then, McCain has been practicing daily – on the road, in hotel conference rooms, behind a lectern, and at his vacation home in Sedona, Ariz.
Hazelbaker said McCain has been “redrafting it, cutting it down, moving paragraphs around.” Other aides said the speech will be shorter than the 45 minutes that some former nominees have taken, but longer than the 15 minutes that an aide once predicted.
McCain has been a fixture at GOP conventions for more than a decade. But his role in the past has been more the gracious loser or character witness or to expound on his favorite subject: geopolitics and the nation’s unique role in the world. Tonight, the 22-year member of the U.S. Senate must make the case for himself, and convince voters, especially independents, that he would bring an outsider’s perspective to the White House. “The ultimate political reality here is that Obama may win as a typical Democrat,” said Michael Gerson, who co-wrote both of George W. Bush’s convention speeches, in 2000 and 2004. “John McCain has no chance to win as a typical Republican.”