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Is The Mccain Campaign Deluded By Its Primary Win?

Michael Gerson makes a great point in his column today:

The style and approach of general election campaigns are often conditioned by the method of victory in the primaries. The Obama team ends the season like a battle-worn Army division -- organized, relentless and skilled at fundraising, registering voters and getting them to the polls. Members of the McCain team feel more like survivors of a near-death experience -- convinced that the virtues of their candidate and the blessings of the political gods matter more than the money, phone banks and door-knocking of traditional politics.

This worries some Republican strategists. One recently described the McCain campaign to me as the political equivalent of a Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland movie: Every morning a few guys get together and say, "Let's put on a show!" McCain's state campaign organizations, coalition outreach and get-out-the-vote efforts are weak or nonexistent. But McCain campaign officials are convinced that they will win -- if they win -- in a different manner than the methodical Bush campaigns of 2000 and 2004. McCain will either catch fire, or he won't -- and traditional efforts to boost turnout, in this view, are not likely to make the difference. Given its history, the McCain campaign is understandably proud of its stripped down, seat-of-the-pants, insurgent campaign style. But it may eventually be useful to have a serious campaign organization in, say, Colorado.

If it's true that a campaign can't un-learn the lessons of its formative experience, then I'd much rather have had the Obama campaign's formative experience than the McCain campaign's. As Gerson points out, Obama's approach to the primaries has a real chance of working all over again, whereas there was almost no correlation between the strength of McCain's approach and his success in the primaries.

In fairness, Team McCain is right to believe they'll get crushed if this becomes a contest of mechanics. The mistake is to conclude that that means they should mostly ignore mechanics. An offensively-talented, run-and-gun basketball team facing a superior opponent can't get into a methodical half-court game and expect to win. But it does help if they can play a little defense now and again.

--Noam Scheiber