The AP reports that John McCain has been able to consolidate the Republican base and is even winning some independents and Democrats as well:
Partly thanks to an increasingly likable image, the Republican presidential candidate has pulled even with the two Democrats still brawling for their party’s nomination, according to an Associated Press-Yahoo news poll released Thursday. Just five months ago — before either party had winnowed its field — the survey showed people preferred sending an unnamed Democrat over a Republican to the White House by 13 percentage points.
Of those who have moved toward McCain, about two-thirds voted for President Bush in 2004 but are now unhappy with him, including many independents who lean Republican. The remaining one-third usually support Democrats but like McCain anyway.
This isn’t all that surprising—McCain has always had strong appeal with independents and some Democrats. In an election season where the Democratic Party is deeply and bitterly divided McCain’s strength among conservative Democrats and independents may be his greatest single asset.
Of course, McCain cannot just rest on his laurels. The American electorate needs a candidate who can provide real solutions to our problems. Sen. McCain must take the lead on healthcare, the environment, fuel prices, and the war. His plan to offer a “gas tax holiday” this summer is the sort of populist plan that could have broad appeal, but Republican policymakers need to do more than offer various tax credits. McCain’s already come out with some promising policy positions on issues like taxes and the environment, but he needs to do more. There’s plenty of time to do that (and that can’t really happen until the Democrats stop sucking all the oxygen out of the room), but it has to be done.
With the GOP base supporting McCain, he can start to reach out to independents at a time when the Democrats are fighting over the liberal base. In a year where the GOP “brand” is hardly in good shape, McCain’s “maverick” cred is extremely helpful. However, McCain will have to walk a tight line between appealing to independents without alienating conservatives. The fact that he’s running against two dyed-in-the-wool liberals will help him, but it won’t get him into office. Make no mistake, even though McCain is in a very strong position right now, this will be a long, hard fight. McCain will need to take some strong substantive positions on key issues, which he so far has not done. The American middle class is worried, and McCain needs to be able to speak to those worries and give them something to vote on other than biography.