True Grit

xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" /

Two months ago John McCain barely had enough money to fuel up his bus. Two days ago Hillary Clinton was being urged by a bunch of liberal pundits to call it quits. But on Super Tuesday 2, McCain wrapped up the GOP nomination while Clinton won Ohio and Texas, the two states her own husband said she had to win to beat Barack Obama. Maybe only Brett Favre has shown as much sheer durability as Clinton and McCain, and even Favre retired on Super Tuesday 2.

Hillary Clinton won Ohio because Ohio is hurting. Having lost more than 200,000 jobs in the last eight years, the Buckeye state saw white males, especially union members, for the first time in awhile rejoin Clinton's loyal cadre of older white women. Obama's promise of change plays well in states like Wisconsin and Virginia where white voters are well enough off to feel progressive, but not where they're under assault. In Ohio those voters sought security. For more on this, and my prediction of Hillary's win, scroll down the Choices 2008 section of to the column I wrote three weeks ago – "No Bucking the Buckeye State."

But will Ohio workers get the security they seek? Consider NAFTA, which is deeply unpopular among Ohio Democrats. Hillary Clinton publicly supported her husband's North American Free Trade Agreement as recently as 2004, yet now threatens to scrap it unless Mexico and Canada renegotiate. However, she downplayed NAFTA in Texas, where the agreement is still popular. Barack Obama says he wants to renegotiate too, but -- in one of those eleventh hour shockers that keep politics so suspenseful -- a leaked memo shows a top Obama advisor assured Canadians the senator wasn't serious about rewriting NAFTA. Obama and even Canada's government later denied the claim, but it was too late. For the first time he got pummeled by a previously adoring press that was now shamed by Clinton (and Saturday Night Live) into pressing Obama.

Hispanics deserve a lot of thanks for Hillary's win in the Lone Star State, although a prominent Hispanic embarrassed the Clinton campaign by saying she could not back Obama because he is black. Clinton has been accused of playing the race card through surrogates like Billy Shaheen, Bob Kerrey, Andrew Cuomo, Robert Johnson and Bill Clinton himself. Hillary supporters contend that Obama is the one relying on race, since he wins more than 80% of the African American vote. It's an ugly divide that may not be easily bridged, even if Clinton and Obama form a fusion ticket.

Hillary's other appeal to Texans was more interesting. She aired the now famous "3 A.M." national security commercial. What was its not so subliminal message? That this commander-in-chief, responding to a ringing red phone, would rush to … call a meeting of the U.N. Security Council? Confer with NATO? Read a Senate intelligence briefing? Those all might be prudent responses, but I submit that the commercial promised action to protect those sleeping children. Variations on that commercial have always been used against opponents – Republican and Democratic -- who seemed weak on national security.

Obama has been countering Clinton's (arguably exaggerated) claims of greater experience in dealing with crises by saying she showed poor judgment in voting to authorize the use of force in Iraq. Obama promises to withdraw our troops there as soon as possible (while adding that he might strike in Iraq again if Al Qaeda reemerges, a stance that John McCain ridicules). Hillary Clinton began her quest for the presidency as a foreign policy hawk. She not only voted for the crucial Iraq resolution but was an ardent supporter of the war and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. This was no more than an extension of Bill Clinton's foreign policy: he had unilaterally bombed Iraq and called for regime change after Saddam forced out weapons inspectors in 1998. Bill Clinton also spoke out in favor of Bush's Iraq war, while later claiming he didn't really mean it, much as Hillary now says she was only seeking renewed weapons inspections.  

Bill Clinton used force often, and often without U.N. authorization, as in Haiti, Kosovo, Sudan and Iraq. I believe the promise to national security minded Texans in that "3 A.M." commercial was that Hillary, who's proclaimed herself a fighter, will be tougher than Barack.

John McCain of course says he'll be tougher than either of them. He wants to win the war and perhaps keep a base in Iraq for 100 years, much as we still have bases in Germany, Japan and South Korea.

But McCain has also shown a different kind of toughness. An earlier darling of the mainstream media, beloved for sticking it to conservatives on campaign finance reform, Bush tax cuts, judicial filibusters and illegal immigration, McCain is now losing some of his luster in the media because he'll actually be the GOP nominee. He's accused of now pandering to conservatives, but McCain on other key issues has consistently run to the right of talk radio's darlings.

For example, Mitt Romney won Michigan by promising the auto industry a massive infusion of federal aid. McCain called that a tax and spend bailout and bluntly told laid off auto workers that their jobs would not be coming back. As McCain recently told me in an interview you can watch on, his formula for economic recovery is cutting taxes and spending and supporting free trade that he believes spurs U.S. exports, as well as imports. His supporters note that manufacturing jobs have moved from Ohio, not just to Mexico and China, but also to other states, like Alabama, that keep taxes low, allow non-union shops and encourage worker retraining.

This is not a formula that plays well in the rust belt, and McCain may have a tough time winning Michigan and Ohio in the general election. But one thing Super Tuesday 2 made clear: when the going gets tough, don't count out Clinton or McCain. 

Jack would like to hear your thoughts on the 2008 Presidential Election.  You can email him at