Yes, that line forms on the right, babe
Now that Macky’s back in town …
Look out … old Macky is back!!

For McCain, this must seem like deja vu all over again. After the astounding win in New Hampshire this week, he faces all the same questions he did in 2000. Can he convert his triumph in the Granite State into victories out West and down South? As before, he is comparatively low on money, and he must rise above his counter-productive popularity with the liberal-leaning mainstream media and the stigma of winning New Hampshire with the wrong voters.

Last time around, he won Michigan following New Hampshire but then met his Waterloo in South Carolina--after which, the wheels came off with disturbing rapidity.

Will history repeat itself? Will John McCain be the Ohio State of American politics?

South Carolina 2008 will not shake out exactly as it did in 2000, for this current race is so fundamentally different from eight years ago. Back then it was a two-man contest. Today there are perhaps five viable candidates--three of whom see South Carolina as a must-win (McCain, Mike Huckabee and Fred Thompson).

Significantly, Romney has backed off in South Carolina for the moment--concentrating on the showdown with McCain in Michigan. Will Romney fold, if he loses Michigan? Maybe--but the Romney camp swears he will press on. We will see.

An Aside: In general, I have wondered whether Romney would stay in this race even after his own chances diminished, just to hammer McCain. That is, no matter what, would Romney remain an inexhaustible ubiquitous force in this campaign as a generic funder of anti-McCain media? But, evidently, he will not play that role in South Carolina (or Florida?)--which means there are limits to how much effort and fortune Romney is willing to expend in this campaign.

Bottom line: The other guys are going to have to pay their own freight and come up with their own anti-McCain ads. This is a huge help to McCain in the Palmetto State and good news for him in general.

Huckabee and Thompson. The media is playing up Huckabee's "southernness" and his affinity with evangelicals, who make up a large segment of Republican primary voters in South Carolina. All of this may work out just fine for Huckabee--but I would not be at all surprised if we find that South Carolinians see Arkansans as less southern than Tennesseans.

What a fool believes (speaking of myself, of course): considering the full spectrum of conservative policy positions, Fred Thompson has a chance (his absolutely last opportunity) to emerge victorious in the first southern state primary. Again, we'll see; Fred has a long way to go and a short time to get there.

One other thing, evangelicals are much more diverse and complicated than the folks who work at Rockefeller Center can ever fathom. Huckabee is not necessarily a slam dunk for conservative evangelicals in the Deep South. Remember, a significant number of southern evangelicals abandoned their fellow Baptist, Jimmy Carter, to vote for a divorced Presbyterian from Hollywood in 1980.

One last note on Fred. For the first one hundred years of American politics, candidates for president never ran for office; rather, they stood for office. That is, instead of soliciting votes personally, candidates announced that they would accept elective office as servants of the public interest, if the public so desired. Although this pose was somewhat disingenuous, candidates eschewed personal campaigns (no kissing babies, endless handshaking, or litany of promises). In theory, they waited for the electorate to find them.

Fred is running the closest thing to an old-style campaign that we have witnessed in one hundred years. It is interesting--and in this tumultuous year in which the unexpected has become the rule, his off-beat approach has a chance of working. We will see.

Can McCain win South Carolina? Yes. He is great on the war--and that is great in the South. He has Lindsey Graham--and that helps. Having said that, things are still very tough for him. The conservative establishment is still extremely antagonistic and unforgiving. As for Republican voters in general, McCain is most vulnerable on immigration. I suppose we will see how powerful that issue really resonates with the base--but McCain's defense does not stand up to much scrutiny on this subject. For a self-proclaimed straight shooter, McCain's Clintonesque reliance on a semantically slippery definition of "amnesty" does real damage to his image.

One last cheap shot at McCain (but maybe it is worth noting):

In an era in which "forty is the new thirty," forty-six year-old Barack Obama seems much younger than the forty-three year-old 1960-vintage JFK, whom we view through the prism of history and mostly gray scale images.

In contrast, in an era in which "seventy is the new sixty," John McCain looks every day his age. The oldest president ever was Ronald Reagan--but he was a movie star, who maintained his matinee idol good looks and athletic vigor for all of his public life. The seventy-one year-old McCain is craggy-faced and unhealthy looking. In this era, McCain's physical appearance and stamina could prove a significant deficit to his campaign.