Quartet of GOP Senators Analyze Bush-McCain Race

By Bruce Sullivan | July 7, 2008 | 8:25 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - With new polls showing Arizona Senator John McCain tied or leading Texas Governor George W Bush in the New Hampshire GOP primary race, senatorial duos for both candidates took to the airwaves Sunday to discuss each man's chances of winning the Republican presidential nomination.

"New Hampshire's important, but a 50-state strategy is what wins the nomination," said Sen. Paul Coverdell, (R-GA), who along with fellow Bush supporter Sen. Mitch McConnell, (R-KY), pointed out that in national polls Bush leads not only McCain, but all other Republican and Democratic presidential candidates.

Appearing with Coverdell and McConnell on NBC's Meet The Press were Sen. Chuck Hagel, (R-NE), and former Sen. Warren Rudman, (R-NH), who are backing McCain's run for the presidency. Rudman said that Bush is "in trouble" in New Hampshire, and the tide in his home state has turned in favor of McCain.

"Up until about four months ago we had a coronation going on," said Rudman about Bush's large early lead in New Hampshire.

"Everybody said there is no competition. George Bush has $60 million and he is the pick of the establishment. They forgot one thing; the voters haven't made up their minds," added Rudman.

According to the latest poll by the New Hampshire-based American Research Group, McCain leads Bush 37 to 30 percent in New Hampshire, whose first-in-the-nation primary on Feb. 1 is considered essential by McCain in his admittedly long shot run for the White House. Last week a Reuters/WHDH poll put McCain ahead of Bush 35 to 32 percent in New Hampshire, a statistical dead heat considering the poll's three point margin of error.

"Candidates have safes full of strategic plans and ideas," said McCain on Fox News Sunday. "Ours is very simple. Win in New Hampshire, win in South Carolina, continue the traction that we're making, move into the succeeding states and use the earned media as well as the money that's coming in."

Bush, McCain and the four other GOP presidential nomination hopefuls, radio host Alan Keyes, family activist Gary Bauer, publisher Steve Forbes and Sen. Orrin Hatch, (R-UT), meet Monday night in Des Moines, Iowa for their third debate. In the Reuters/WHDH poll Forbes was third with 12 percent, Keyes was fourth with five percent, while Hatch and Bauer both tied for last by garnering one percent each.

On the campaign trail in New Hampshire, Bush said that he has "a lot of work to do" in his fight with McCain, but he is confident of beating the former Vietnam POW on primary day. He said McCain is "a good man," but Bush added that he would "do a better job" as president.

However, Rudman said that McCain has excited the voters in New Hampshire in a way that he hasn't seen in many years.

"John McCain has done something in New Hampshire I haven't seen in 30 years. He has created electricity in the electorate," said Rudman. He added that one year ago McCain's poll numbers were at three percent.

"To say we're not pleased would be disingenuous," said Rudman.

McConnell said that he is pleased with Bush's campaign performance so far, including his debates with the other candidates, which some critics characterized as lackluster.

"I thought the Governor's performance was just fine," said McConnell. "And every bit as good as the candidates who have a legitimate shot at winning the nomination."

Hagel, who is also a Vietnam veteran, formerly back Bush's candidacy, but switched to supporting McCain earlier this year after McCain officially threw his hat in the ring.

"[Bush] would be a very effective candidate for president," said Hagel. "But I've known John McCain for 20 years, and I think John McCain's the best prepared [candidate.]"