Last week John McCain, in a somewhat awkward festivity, accepted President George W. Bush's endorsement for the presidency after wrapping up the majority of delegates needed to secure the Republican nomination.
McCain, setting aside his staunch support for the still generally unpopular War in Iraq, is the type of Republican candidate (i.e. fiscally conservative, not beloved by the 'religious right,' a perceived 'straight talker' etc.) who could draw in independent voters to end the stronghold Democratic presidential nominees have enjoyed in recent years in the Upper Midwestern battleground states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa. Since 1988, the Democrats have carried 14 of 15 contests across these three states, with the only blemish being Bush's 0.7-point victory in Iowa in 2004.
According to the latest matchup polls, McCain is currently performing very competitively against Hillary Clinton in these states:
Iowa: McCain 47%, Clinton 37% (Rasmussen, February 18, 500 LV)
Minnesota: Clinton 49%, McCain 45% (SurveyUSA, February 15-17, 541 RV)
Wisconsin: McCain 50%, Clinton 38% (Rasmussen, February 21, 500 LV)
McCain is also neck-and-neck with Barack Obama, except in the Gopher State:
Iowa: Obama 44%, McCain 41% (Rasmussen, February 18, 500 LV)
Minnesota: Obama 55%, McCain 40% (SurveyUSA, February 15-17, 541 RV)
Wisconsin: Obama 44%, McCain 43% (Rasmussen, February 21, 500 LV)
Of great concern to the McCain camp is not so much whether he can appeal to Republicans in these Upper Midwestern states (about three-quarters of whom still back the President), but whether the disdain independents have for President Bush will prompt them to vote Democratic, despite their favorable view of McCain as a person and politician.
George Bush's overall approval ratings last month show no signs of life for the lame duck president (SurveyUSA, February 15-17, 600 adults):
Iowa: 30 percent approve, 67 percent disapprove
Minnesota: 30 percent approve, 68 percent disapprove
Wisconsin: 34 percent approve; 65 percent disapprove
Bush's current disapproval ratings in Minnesota and Wisconsin are the 2nd and 4th highest registered respectively by SurveyUSA in 33 consecutive months of polling.
The approval / disapproval numbers for independents towards Bush across these three states offer no better news for McCain:
Iowa = 30 percent approve, 69 percent disapprove
Minnesota = 29 percent approve, 70 percent disapprove
Wisconsin = 33 percent approve, 64 percent disapprove
The 'Bush drag' is likely to continue, even with the relatively good news coming out of Iraq these days, due to the increased bad news coming out of the second front on the war on terror, Afghanistan, and general nervousness about the American economy (e.g. gas prices, the home mortgage crisis etc.). McCain will need to define himself as a unique political personality, independent from the Bush administration, if he is to lure in enough independents to win these crucial battleground states in the Upper Midwest.