McCain's Battle Cry Starts to Sound Hoarse

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The GOP is not, traditionally, the party of campaign finance reform. So while Senator John McCain's insurgency may earn him a place in America's hearts as an alternative to politics-as-usual, it is unlikely to win him the Republican nomination. The senator from Arizona went mano a manowith George W. Bush on campaign finance reform during Monday night's GOP candidates' debate in Iowa, forcing the Texas governor to defend the party's reliance on corporate "soft money." But while McCain may have claimed the moral high ground, that high ground may actually be outside of the GOP's boundary fence.

"This is a fight for the Republican nomination, and many Republicans believe that campaign finance reform will hurt the GOP," says TIME Washington correspondent James Carney. "Conservatives who've always been suspicious of McCain's reform bill will be more likely to vote for Bush." In fact, Bush looked more confident and assertive compared with previous debates, and won the night by painting McCain's signature issue as being detrimental to the GOP as a whole. McCain's vow to deprive Iowa of its most cherished piece of political pork, ethanol subsidies, has also made the state hostile territory for the insurgent. "McCain wrote off Iowa a long time ago — his strong stand against ethanol subsidies wasn't designed to win over Iowans, but was addressed to audiences in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Arizona, where he's pouring resources into beating Bush," says Carney. "Then again, you have to ask whether being booed on national television actually helps a candidate."