McCain to Stake Bid On Need to Win in Iraq

Ex-GOP front-runner John McCain is struggling in polls and fundraising.
Ex-GOP front-runner John McCain is struggling in polls and fundraising. (Mario Tama - Getty Images)
By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 7, 2007

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) will launch a high-profile effort next week to convince Americans that the Iraq war is winnable, embracing the unpopular conflict with renewed vigor as he attempts to reignite his stalling bid for the presidency.

With the Virginia Military Institute as a backdrop, McCain plans to argue in a speech on Wednesday that victory in Iraq is essential to American security and that President Bush's war machine is finally getting on track after four years, aides and advisers said.

McCain's rosy assessment of safety on Iraq's streets after his recent visit to a Baghdad marketplace was mocked by many, prompting him to tell a television reporter that he "misspoke" and now regrets the comments. But, in the interview to be broadcast tomorrow, the senator sticks by his defense of the overall war effort, predicting that failure in Iraq would be "catastrophic."

It is a gamble at a critical time for the former front-runner for the Republican nomination, the political equivalent of a "double-down" in blackjack, as one person close to the campaign put it. A candidate once seen as the almost inevitable winner, McCain is struggling in the polls and this week placed dead last in fundraising among the three top Republican and three top Democratic contenders.

McCain's supporters say that though he is not declaring "mission accomplished," he has little choice but to enthusiastically renew his support for the war.

"You can't get around the elephant in the room, which is Iraq," said Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.), who discussed the speech with McCain as the pair flew back together from a congressional visit to Iraq this week.

In the interview on CBS News's "60 Minutes," McCain responds to criticism of the marketplace comments by saying, "Of course I am going to misspeak, and I've done it on numerous occasions, and I probably will do it in the future," according to excerpts released by the network.

But McCain also says, according to excerpts, "I believe we can succeed." And he urges viewers to "support this new strategy, let's support this new general and let's give it everything we can to have it succeed."

The Iraq speech will be the first of three major policy addresses McCain will give in the coming weeks as he prepares to officially announce his candidacy, with stops beginning in New Hampshire and ending in Arizona at the end of the month. He will give a speech about taxes, trade and government waste on April 16 and a lecture on domestic policy, perhaps emphasizing energy issues, a week later, according to advisers.

Together, aides hope, the speeches and remarks will serve as a reintroduction of McCain to voters, helping to ignite some of the same kind of passion his candidacy evoked in 2000. They are also hoping to recapture the limelight from his GOP rivals, former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. Giuliani is leading in national polls, and Romney raised $10 million more than McCain in the first three months of the year.

"This is about moving forward and doing what's necessary to make John McCain president," said Terry Nelson, his campaign manager. "We want to talk broadly about the challenges this country faces. That has not been done in a systematic way by any candidate, so far."

The immediate focus, however, is the Iraq war, which McCain has said for weeks will be the issue that defines his campaign.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company