McCain has tried, in a fitful and not very effective way, to distance
himself from President George Bush [AFP]
What evil looks
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge,
"The Rime of the Ancient Mariner"
John McCain, the Republican party's ancient mariner (aged 71, navy man) has a very heavy weight around his neck that threatens to sink his White House hopes.
President George Bush is the bird McCain cant get rid of. Right now, Bush's approval rating is at 28 per cent, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, but even worse, 54 per cent say that they want a president who would bring major change to existing government policies - even if that person isn't heavily experienced.
Just 42 per cent said they would rather have more experience even if it meant less change. When it comes to who, exactly, would bring about real change, 48 per cent say Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic candidate, while just 21 per cent picked McCain.
So far, McCain has been casting the race between himself and Obama as experience versus change; that didn't work out that well for Hillary Clinton, and there's no reason to think it will work any better for McCain.
Obama has clearly taken this on board (sorry for another nautical metaphor) and is trying to depict McCain and Bush as almost a single person.
In his economic policy speech in North Carolina, he mentioned Bush 15 times (and McCain 18 times) while making the point that McCain would continue Bush's policies.
Obama is, at the moment, benefiting from a blast of favourable media attention.
The NBC/WSJ poll shows him opening up a six-point lead over McCain, up from a three point advantage in April. But that's not a massively big bump, and one could argue that given the unfavourable political environment for the Republicans, Obama should be much further ahead.
McCain has tried, in a fitful and not very effective way, to distance himself from the president.
He made a widely-ridiculed speech in a New Orleans suburb the night that Obama clinched the nomination, apparently hoping the Hurricane Katrina-linked location would make a point about how McCain would do things differently.
Alas, even Republican stalwarts panned the speech. William Kristol, a leading neo-con, called the speech "disjointed" and the slogans therein "foolish" in an op-ed piece in the New York Times.
McCain can hope to garner some positive attention for himself when he picks his running mate, so long as the pick is a sensible or even bold one.
I have talked about possible choices in this space before. A new name floating in the political waters (sorry again!) is Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. I think she would make a terrific choice for McCain, she's only 42 years old, extremely popular in her state and a fresh face with an attractive family.
Palin may attract the women voters that McCain desperately needs and could possibly help him peel off some of the disgruntled Clinton supporters who want to see a woman on one of the major party tickets. Sure, she isn't very experienced but McCain has enough experience for both of them.
Obama's vice presidential search has hit a rough patch with the resignation of the leader of his vetting team, businessman Jim Johnson, after it was revealed he received preferential loans from a controversial mortgage company.
Prior to the resignation, Johnson, former deputy attorney general Eric Holder, and Caroline Kennedy visited members of Congress to float various names as possible running mates.
One nugget of news that emerged indicates that Obama is seriously looking at former uniformed military officers, including retired general Wesley Clark and former Marine Corps commandant James L Jones. Like Clark, Jones served as Nato's top military commander, and is currently a special envoy for the Middle East peace efforts of Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state.
Conventional wisdom about running mates says don't choose someone who's never won an election. Also, putting a general on the ticket would in effect say that Obama needs someone to hold his hand when making tough decisions that could involve the use of the military.
But ultimately, though, this election will be decided by whether McCain can convince voters that he will make a definite and positive break with the policies of Bush.
If he can, he has a chance. If he can't wrench the Bush albatross off from around his neck, he will be sailing against the wind (ouch!)