Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

McCain's Landslide Win Leaves GOP Establishment in a Bind ; Analysts Suggest the Party's Elite Has Lost Touch with Electorate and Needs to Regroup

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

McCain's Landslide Win Leaves GOP Establishment in a Bind ; Analysts Suggest the Party's Elite Has Lost Touch with Electorate and Needs to Regroup

Article excerpt

Texas Gov. George W. Bush wasn't the only loser in the New Hampshire primary this week.

Virtually the entire Republican "establishment" - officials across the country, including most GOP governors, senators, and House members, who endorsed Governor Bush for their party's presidential nomination - also suffered immense embarrassment when Arizona Sen. John McCain beat Bush by 19 points.

Over the past year, in endorsement after endorsement, top Republicans announced they were backing Bush, citing his "electability." That electability was based on his ability to raise a lot of cash - which in turn was based on Bush's famous political family and its fund-raising Rolodex. Being governor of a big state put a sheen of legitimacy on his bid.

What the establishment hadn't counted on in New Hampshire was that voters would look at the core product and find it wanting. And that an alternative - Senator McCain, who wowed New Hampshirites with his maverick, anti-party message - would come in and steal the show.

"The Republicans were so desperate for a winner, they backed someone who was famous for being famous," says Jay Severin, a GOP strategist not affiliated with any presidential campaign.

McCain is actively disliked by the Republican elected elite, mainly because of his crusade to take "special interest money" out of politics. For the most part, he votes with his party, and he has a consistently conservative record. But his poke-'em-in-the-eye style rankles many party regulars.

Now that McCain has shown what he can do when actual voters go to the polls, Bush's backers are in a bind. If they are perceived as trying to undermine McCain (say, by trying to keep him off the ballot in New York), that may incite voters more. But they can't very well say "never mind" to Bush and switch to the candidate who could arguably pose a more formidable threat to the Democratic nominee in November. …

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