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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We have an ambitious $350,000 online fundraising goal this month and it's truly crunch time: About 15 percent of our yearly online giving usually comes in during the final week of the year, and in "No Cute Headlines or Manipulative BS," we explain why we simply can't afford to come up short right now.

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That's why donations big and small make up 74 percent of our budget this year. There is no backup to keep us going, no alternate revenue source, no secret benefactor. If readers don’t donate, we won’t be here. It's that simple.

And if you can help us out with a donation right now, all online gifts will be matched thanks to an incredibly generous matching gift pledge.

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