Will John McCain trump a Democratic nominee?

By Mayank Chhaya, IANS

Chicago : Republican Senator John McCain, a Vietnam war hero whose candidacy was written off barely three months ago amid drying campaign coffers and eroding popular support, has a potential shot at becoming America’s next president.

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The 71-year-old Arizona politician’s assertive victories in the Super Tuesday primaries could well propel him to the White House in a country still wary of making history by choosing either its first woman president in Hillary Clinton or first president of a mixed ethnic heritage in Barack Obama.

This electoral cageyness, which was manifest in the fairly evenly divided votes in the Democratic Party’s primaries, could potentially open the door for McCain.

Between now and November, when the presidential elections will be held, there is enough room for McCain to position himself as a credible, relatively moderate and battle-tested Republican. Of course, McCain’s standing with the powerful Christian conservative lobby in and outside the party remains shaky and that could upstage him at the Republican National Convention in September which will formally anoint a nominee.

But if the current trend is any measure McCain is the clear frontrunner for the nomination.

Although the idea of a woman president or a president with a mixed racial heritage is a powerful one and has found considerable resonance throughout the campaign, it is conceivable that when the time comes Americans will shy off from effecting a historic change.

In a country, where after 232 years of independence, there are a sizable number of people who still wonder whether it is ready for a woman or an African American president, it is too much to be asked to choose precisely between two such candidates.

It is a given that one way or the other the Democratic Party will make history when it finally chooses its nominee. The question is whether America will have the stomach to institutionalise it. With that as the backdrop, McCain could appear to be an attractive alternative to a majority of the voters whose ideological preferences are considered centrist.

His credentials as someone who could command followers beyond his own party got somewhat strengthened when ragingly conservative media commentators such as Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter denounced him in unambiguous terms. In a measure of their disaffection for McCain, they both said they would rather have Hillary Clinton in the White House. For Coulter and Limbaugh, notorious for their often abusive hatred for liberals in general and the Clintons in particular, to indirectly endorse the New York senator is symptomatic of the divide within the Republican Party.

McCain’s age has been a subject of much commenting. By the standards of leadership followed in India he is still quite young and fit, notwithstanding his brush with melanoma, a form of skin cancer on his arm and temple. He was diagnosed to have this most lethal form of skin cancer in 2000.

While he has the longest experience in national security matters among all candidates, he is considered callow on economic affairs. McCain has countered questions over his economic inexperience saying he has a greater grasp than his detractors give him credit for.

On the defining Republican issue of the Iraq war, his position is close to President George Bush’s as he supported the latter’s decision to escalate the troop presence in that country some months ago. Recently he courted controversy by saying that the US could be in Iraq for the next 100 years.

McCain’s potential rise to the highest office in the land could be reminiscent of the Indian fable where two cats fighting over a loaf of bread were trumped by a monkey pretending to referee the dispute.