U.S. Senate candidate Jane Norton is teaming up again with John McCain, this time for a campaign swing on the last weekend of the GOP primary. Norton’s betting that Colorado GOP voters will be more turned on by McCain’s hawkish stand on the Afghanistan war than they will be turned off by the record of lukewarm conservatism that steered them away from his 2008 presidential candidacy in droves.
Norton is hawkish on the war, already the longest military engagement in U.S. history, even as the country has soured on it as a quagmire. Poll results published today, just hours before Norton sent out the email blast touting McCain’s coming visit, show rising numbers of Americans now feel that sending troops to Afghanistan was a mistake. News also came that the American death toll in the conflict hit a record high 66 in the month of July.
Norton’s commitment to extending the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq would seem to clang with her avowed small government anti-deficit rhetoric, the kind of Janus-faced approach to policy that at least some Bush-weary conservatives now find suspect. Indeed in June, Norton released a controversial anti-terror advertisement and foreign policy statement that seemed a flashback to the gung-ho Bush years, when Bush’s own one-time protestations against “nation building” overreach fell by the wayside.
“Liberals have forgotten America’s role as First Among Nations, as the greatest force for good on the planet,” wrote Norton. “They’ve forgotten the nature of the threat against us. We’re at war with terrorists, with radical Jihadists that want to destroy us.” She reports that her top foreign policy priorities are to “finish the job in Iraq” and “redouble efforts in Afghanistan.”
In a debate in Colorado Springs last month, her primary opponent, Weld County D.A. Ken Buck took a different view. He said he supports setting realistic goals and withdrawing from Afghanistan once those goals have been met. The goals included dismantling the drug trade and securing much of the region against Taliban attacks. He said the issue was personal for him and mentioned his son, Cody, a West Point cadet. “I don’t want him to waste his life. God bless us if we don’t give our troops an exit strategy to get back home.”
Norton’s turn toward McCain of all people in the final stretch of the primary, has already baffled some politics watchers. Right-wing blogger and radio host Ross Kaminsky emailed Norton campaign manager Josh Penry for an explanation. Penry emailed that the move only “seems audacious” but that the numbers add up.
1 – John McCain’s approval rating in Colorado is metoric [sic]. 69 percent favorable, 22 percent unfavorable, among GOP primary voters.
2 – The 22 percent who dislike John McCain almost universally agree with McCain and Norton on the war – and thus disagree with the Surrender Monkey wing of the Ron Paul movement that Buck has shown sympathies to.
3 – There are about 500,000 live ballots out there right now, many of them have never voted in a primary, but 90 percent of them voted for John McCain. The numbers are conclusive: if you want to enlarge the universe, and we do, McCain can help do it to a greater extent than anyone else.
It seems audacious, but the numbers say it’s really not and we’re on offense until the end.
Yet the 90 percent of Colorado voters Penry references cast their votes for McCain over Barack Obama. The more instructive figure is the the number of these voters who went against McCain in the 2008 primary, where they landslided for Mitt Romney. McCain pulled down just 18 percent of the vote. Romney won 60 percent. Those primary voters would likely vote for Ken Buck over John McCain for any office in the land — and that’s essentially the choice Norton and Penry are putting on the table here.
Kaminsky, who is at least sympathetic to the Norton candidacy, admits that he “lean[s] somewhat toward the Buck statements on Afghanistan rather than towards Jane’s ‘double down’ approach.”
Another conservative blogger, Laura Victoria, writing to the Colorado independent on the announcement, used the kind of language that will surely fill comment threads for the next few days.
“Jane’s desperate call to the Washington establishment is what Ken Buck supporters have been talking about since the beginning of the campaign. This is how she would wind up deciding how to vote in Washington. Ken is a real guy, who has not just spewed out standard GOP talking points… He has a realistic view of Afghanistan, not the starry eyed one Jane regurgitates from McCain.”
Whereas Penry described the move as seeming “audacious,” Buck campaign consultant Walt Klein called it “unsurprising.”
“McCain called on Jane to run. He rallied an army of lobbyists to raise money for her. Now, at the end of a desperate campaign, Norton’s dragging Sen. McCain all the way out of her closet. He’s coming to Colorado to personally attack Ken Buck,” Klein was quoted in a release.
The move plays in to the Buck narrative that has been operational from the beginning of the Norton-Buck contest; that, of the two, Buck is the grassroots candidate chosen by the people.
“Ken’s focus at the end of this primary is the same as it was at the start — Colorado’s grassroots.”
In the year of the great Colorado tea party, grassroots matters. Multi-homeowner, multi-millionaire Washington icon John McCain is a lot of things. He’s not grassroots.