This was the first full day of campaign coverage for John McCain. All three networks sent reporters to Iowa to ride on his Straight Talk Express. McCain himself conceded that this was a dusted-off version of his Campaign 2000 bus: "Deja vu all over again," he told CBS' Sharyn Alfonsi even as unnamed campaign insiders confessed to her privately they are worried that "the magic of 2000 may be gone."
Back then, NBC's Chip Reid remembered, the bus was "freewheeling and unpredictable." Now McCain's campaign faces this question: "Can a man who has spent the intervening years courting the Republican establishment run again as an outsider?" NBC's Reid suggested McCain will have trouble generating excitement. This time round most of his "straight talk" is about the war in Iraq--and that leaves his audience far from energized, "mostly silent." ABC's Jake Tapper (subscription required), too, found the mood on the bus "less joyful, more severe." McCain told Tapper: "I would rather lose the campaign than lose the war."
This time eight years ago, CBS' Alfonsi reminded us, Elizabeth Dole and Dan Quayle were ahead of McCain in the polls. But back in 2000, the entire primary season did not effectively end in the first week in February. That will now happen because California has moved its 2008 primary forward, paving the way for a nearly-national Super Tuesday. Only ABC followed up with analysis. This Week anchor George Stephanopoulos repeated the conventional wisdom that this will help "well-funded frontrunners--on the other hand, the law of unintended consequences could kick in." It may be that whoever wins in Iowa and New Hampshire will emerge with "momentum that is unstoppable."
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