The McCain Brand, Diluted

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The Baltimore Sun has bad news for McCain:

John McCain once had the most powerful brand in American politics.

He was often called the country’s most popular politician and widely admired for his independent streak. It wasn’t too many years ago that “maverick” was the cliche of choice in describing him.

But that term didn’t even make the list this year when voters were asked by the Pew Research Center to sum up McCain in a single word. “Old” got the most mentions, followed by “honest,” “experienced,” “patriot,” “conservative” and a dozen more. The words “independent,” “change” or “reformer” weren’t among them….

For many voters, his image today is as an outspoken defender of an unpopular war in Iraq and a supporter of Bush’s economic policies, including the tax cuts that McCain voted against in the Senate but now promotes as a presidential candidate.

In a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 54 percent of respondents said they are looking for a “new president who would bring greater changes to current policies, even if that person is less experienced and tested.” The message to the McCain campaign ought to be clear — branding the Senator as “experienced,” “patriot,” or “conservative,” as they are already doing, just isn’t going to work this time around. (“Experienced” didn’t work for Clinton, and “patriot” doesn’t seem to work for anybody.)

They have to find a way to get on the change wagon, but without sounding like a faint echo of Barack Obama. The 2000 John McCain might have been able to do that. But the 2008 John McCain, who has spent eight years warming up to Bush and becoming the candidate of the Republican establishment, seems to have ruined his chance to do that. What a drastic misreading of the political climate.

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