WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Now that he has clinched the Republican presidential nomination, John McCain has to figure out how to remain in the public eye while attention is diverted to the tense Democratic battle.
The danger is that the epic struggle between Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton over their party’s presidential nomination will dominate the news and turn McCain into a side issue.
It is a subject that concerns McCain’s advisers, but they believe they will be able to keep sufficient focus on the Arizona senator while at the same time raise some much needed campaign cash and work on bringing the Republican Party together behind him.
“You have to be concerned about it,” said senior McCain adviser Charlie Black. “But I think the answer is we have to go out and make news.”
McCain told reporters in Florida “it’s going to be more difficult obviously” to maintain national visibility “but at the same time it does give me an opportunity to go around and shore up our base of support, unite our party and energize our party.”
McCain is planning a trip to the Middle East and Europe for later this month as part of a congressional delegation and will soon embark on a tour of places near and dear to his heart in an effort to re-introduce himself to Americans, including a stop at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.
He is expected to give two or three significant speeches over the next couple of months outlining his views on national security, the U.S. economy and health care.
He will also use many opportunities to contrast his own views with the Democrats, and at some point farther down the road will go through the process of picking a vice presidential running mate.
Now that Bush has endorsed McCain, his campaign team will work with the Republican National Committee to use its huge fund-raising and message machine to help McCain.
And Republicans feel that Democratics bickering between themselves is not such a bad thing for McCain.
“If we have time breaking into the news coverage it’s because the two of them (Obama and Clinton) are fighting like the dickens, spending all that money. So it’s a good trade-off,” said Black.
Democrats are already trying to frame the debate about McCain, describing him as a Republican in the same mold as the unpopular President George W. Bush.
“John McCain has worked hard over the last eight years to throw away his maverick image and morph into the ultimate Bush Republican,” said Karen Finney, spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll published on Thursday said McCain would lose to either Obama or Clinton in a hypothetical matchup, but Republican strategists believe he has time to catch up as Democrats fight it out.
“He can come across as the sensible alternative to these people,” said Rich Galen, a Republican strategist who advised the Republican campaign of former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson. And he said McCain can generate headlines by doing some Senate work.
Trent Duffy, a former deputy White House press secretary, said McCain now has time to reintroduce himself to Americans. As a Navy pilot, McCain was shot down in Vietnam and spent 5 1/2 years as a Vietnam prisoner of war.
“People know what the media have told them. Now he has the luxury to define himself and tell people what they don’t know about John McCain,” said Duffy.
Karl Rove, the architect of Bush’s two presidential election victories, wrote in The Wall Street Journal on Thursday that McCain needs to define his views on the Iraq war and the struggle against Islamic extremists in a way that causes Obama and Clinton to attack him.
“In politics as in war, the properly prepared counterpunch is often more powerful than the assault itself,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason with McCain; editing by David Wiessler and Todd Eastham)