Somewhere in the Sedona Summit - probably in Mitt Romney's laptop - there was a Strengths/Weaknesses/Opportunities/Threats discussion of the campaign against Barack Obama. Hopefull it looked about like this:
1. Strong positioning as an ethical centrist, willing to take on his party on issues of principle. Examples include leadership of the bi-partisan agreement on approval of federal judges, the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Bill, advocacy for comprehensive immigration reform, and opposition to earmarks.
2. Deep experience in military and foreign affairs, from both his peronal experience and from his ranking position on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Assuming that the recent progress in Iraq continues, he can assume that the American people will prefer a strong presence in the Middle East to the Obama / Reid / Pelosi call for retreat.
1. His age. He can anticipate continuing protestations by the Obama campaign and the NY Times that his 71 year age should not be considered a campaign issue. Pray for his mother's health.
2. Socially conservative positions which are necessary if one is to obtain the Republican nomination, and with which he is apparently comfortable. This does diminish his attractiveness for disaffected Hillary Democrats. His environmental views help.
1. In a general election campaign, as opposed to Democratic primaries, there is a large "where's the beef" question about Obama. (Hopefully some campaign consultant will find a simple phrase to capture the reality.) As opposed to McCain's Maverick status, Obama's record of voting "present" on tough issues in the Illinois Senate, his far left voting record in the US Senate, and the lack of any history of putting principle ahead of personal political benefit should be a warning on leadership.
2. The Democrats will control both the House and the Senate, with liberal leaders in both chambers. Most Americans find split government with checks and balances to be comfortable. Obama's call for change is real, and he would have a clear path to radical change - as yet undefined, but certainly far to the left.
3. Hillary's campaign has shown where the fissures are in the Democratic Party. In terms of geography, the broader Ohio River Valley can provide enough Electoral College votes to overcome the potential loss of Virginia. (270towin.com provides an excellent interactive map for assessing the possibilities.)
4. Many people sitll want to know who Obama is. His books are interesting - particularly to the Obamites - but the people with whom he has chosen to associate are more interesting. His supporters talk of breaking down the Red State / Blue State divide, but his San Francisco moment showed who he respects and who he doesn't.
1. Iraq could collapse. That's unlikely, but it is the hope of partisans in the Harry Reid mold.
2. The economy could significantly worsen. Contrary to the din, the economic data is mixed, suggesting a shallow recession with reason for optimism by November. But, the current accounts deficit and our reliance on expensive foreign oil are real problems that will require marked improvement in the next administration. McCain's humorous candor on economic understanding has hurt, notwithstanding his role on the Senate Commerce Committee. A VP with economic strength would help, both in the election and in the administration.
McCain's bet - and I suspect a good one - is that a series of unmoderated debates on the issues will help to focus his differences with Obama, show a marked different in experience, and demonstrate a contrast between his leadership and Obama's mediator tendency to look for the best in characters like Rev. Wright and President Ahmedinijad.