So with a dramatic Democratic race nearly certain to dominate the headlines until June 7, how does John McCain keep himself on page A1 over the next three months or so?
First, does McCain need to grab the headlines for the next few months? News coverage from six months away from Election Day rarely proves decisive. President George W. Bush had an awful spring in 2004, as the Abu Gharib scandal came to light, and only the passing of President Reagan changed the news cycle.
Still, one McCain strategist thinks that because McCain will disappear from the headlines, his numbers on daily tracking will fade a bit in the coming weeks. If Obama’s having a good couple of days against Hillary, his general election numbers will get a bit of a bump, and vice versa. The persuadable voters won’t be reminded of why they like McCain. (The upside for the GOP is that the Democrats may spend considerable resources pointing out each others’ flaws.)
So a candidate can make news by meeting with figures (generating veep or cabinet buzz), and the other way of generating news is giving speeches – his key economic address, his key energy address, his key foreign policy address, etc.
With gasoline expected to hit $4 a gallon by summer, energy will probably be a much more prominent issue than it has been in recent cycles. There’s some talk of having McCain tour alternative energy plants and sites, but that’s rarely going to be a bigger story than the latest Hillary vs. Obama brouhaha.
Last night on 60 Minutes, asked about troubles in the economy, McCain answered that “the fundamentals of the economy are strong.” Economists can argue the veracity of that comment, but it may be an off-key message at a moment the U.S. may be headed toward a much tougher situation than normal: disappointing job numbers, record foreclosures, a prolonged housing slump, higher transportation costs increasing the prices of most consumer goods, a weak dollar, a stock market that is volatile when it’s not sliding…
While the U.S. economy may be fundamentally strong when compared to other countries, the electorate will probably prefer the candidate whose answer drips with empathy…