It’s an election between old and new.
The Republican presidential candidate is a former war hero and seasoned senator who would be the oldest president in history when he starts his first term. His opponent is a much younger, charismatic Democrat.
The Republican’s age and health are campaign issues, as is his temper. Falling behind in the polls, he attacks the news media for its biased coverage of the campaign.
So whose idea was it to rerun the 1996 Bob Dole presidential campaign in 2008? I heard rumblings of John McCain-as-Bob Dole a few weeks ago while in Maine on vacation. A staunch Republican — who’ll vote for McCain without enthusiasm — nevertheless said he’s worried about November.
It feels like Bob Dole all over again, he said, shaking his head. And that was before the latest series of McCain gaffes.
Comedian Jay Leno said Wednesday night, "I don’t want to . . . say McCain is running a lackluster campaign, but his Secret Service codename is ‘Bob Dole.’" The way it looks today, McCain could be headed for the same outcome as Dole in 1996, who lost to incumbent Bill Clinton 49 percent to 41 percent.
Several polls show Obama with a comfortable lead nationally over McCain.
But it’s way too early to crown Obama the victor, as some political observers seem eager to do. Anything could still happen in the 100 days until voters go to the polls. McCain could shake the perception that he’s faltering. After all, he has already proved himself a political Lazarus once in this campaign. He had been given up for politically dead last summer and came back stronger.
And yet, comparisons with Dole are striking. Dole was 73 on Election Day 1996 when he lost to incumbent Bill Clinton, 50. McCain will be 72 in November, and Obama 47.
Like Dole, McCain has faced age and health issues. Both ran for president as cancer survivors. McCain so far has avoided the kind of embarrassing moment Dole had when he fell off a stage during a campaign event, raising questions about his agility and ability.
But the constant coverage of McCain’s misstatements has led to questions about whether he’s showing his age. His staff insists that anyone who’s onstage with reporters all day is bound to misspeak, so what’s the big deal? Even Mother Nature failed to cooperate. Hurricane Dolly kept McCain from what was to be a high-profile trip to an offshore drilling rig.
How bad is it for John McCain? The man who once was called the media’s darling now pursues the classic loser strategy of bashing the news media. McCain basked in media love in 2000 when he was the "maverick" running against George W. Bush in the Republican primaries.
Now McCain whines that the news media is in love with Obama. McCain put up a Web video with sound bites of silly media types blathering about how impressed they are with Obama. It’s sickening to watch the sycophants, but it also makes McCain seem jealous of their attention.
Dole, in the final weeks of the ’96 campaign, complained bitterly that The New York Times would run only "anti-Dole" stories and didn’t pay enough attention to fundraising scandals surrounding Clinton.
Nothing says loser louder than complaining about the media. Surely, someone could have learned that since the first George Bush, running against Clinton in 1992, put out "Annoy the media. Vote Bush" bumper stickers.
McCain did get a boost when The New York Times failed to run his op-ed, because it provided fodder to McCain’s argument that he has been wronged. The same newspaper broke the story about McCain’s close friendship with a woman lobbyist.
McCain should not be surprised that Obama reaped lots of good coverage on his trip to Europe. It was McCain after all who goaded Obama to visit Iraq, even putting a counter on the McCain Web site to show long it had been since Obama’s first visit.
McCain evidently isn’t much of a chess player. Anybody could have anticipated that Obama’s next move would be to extend the trip to so that he could walk on the world stage.
Obama goes on a world tour and gets compared to JFK. Poor McCain may be this year’s Bob Dole.
(Marsha Mercer is Washington bureau chief of Media General News Service. E-mail mmercer(at)mediageneral.com)