Cover Story

Window shopping

"Window shopping" Continued...

Issue: "Signs and wonders," Jan. 26, 2008

But an early primary resurgence in New Hampshire put McCain back into the running, and by mid-January the senator held a double-digit lead in national polls. His unexpected success may come partly from his maintaining prickly positions on controversial issues, most notably his ardent support for the war in Iraq and his fierce criticism of the Bush administration's war strategy.

With a McCain-endorsed troop surge now turning the tide in Baghdad, public opinion may be turning for McCain as well, especially among independent voters who have opposed the war but now see progress.

The senator's emotional narrative about his own experience as a Navy pilot and five-year prisoner of war in Vietnam connects with voters on the campaign trail as well. McCain is often most moved when talking about the courage of soldiers he served alongside.

Republican Ron Paul

Ron Paul may register only about 4 percent in national polls, but the congressman from Texas has some of the most zealous supporters in the race. For them, support goes beyond likability to fervent devotion.

Paul's internet following is undeniable: The candidate raised an extraordinary $18 million in the last three months of 2007, most of it online. With a deliberately modest campaign operation and a handful of staffers, Paul depends on throngs of self-starter volunteers to get out his libertarian message: Supporters make T-shirts, wave banners over busy highways, and travel long distances to pass out homemade campaign literature.

The soft-spoken candidate instantly connects with his high-energy, young supporters, though in many ways he's not much like them: A highly disciplined candidate, Paul wears orthopedic shoes with modest suits and likes to go to bed early.

Still, when Paul's frail figure appeared on a tiny stage in a smoky Iowa bar last summer, the mostly twentysomething crowd chanted with ear-numbing intensity: "Live free or die hard!"

Least likely to connect

Democrat Hillary Clinton

Sen. Hillary Clinton doesn't usually inspire ear-numbing intensity at campaign events, but the highly polished front-runner's campaign staff does know how to work a crowd: Clinton events are well-orchestrated affairs, down to the arrangement of the chairs and the soundtrack on the speakers.

But Clinton struggles to exude the natural warmth of other candidates, and the senator's campaign advisers coach her on cultivating likability. Ironically, Clinton's greatest breakthrough may have come at one of her most unplanned moments.

After suffering a stinging third-place defeat in Iowa, Clinton's voice quaked when a voter in New Hampshire asked her how she kept up her pace every day. One day later, Clinton narrowly defeated Obama in a contest that polls predicted she would lose.

Political observers didn't agree on whether Clinton's vulnerability put her over the top, but they did agree on one thing: The candidate's likability issues wouldn't vanish over one incident.

Proof of that reality came quickly. The woman who asked Clinton the question in the now-famous New Hampshire encounter felt that Clinton's response seemed canned: She voted for Obama.

Republican Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney may be one of the hardest working candidates on the campaign trail, but the former governor of Massachusetts also struggles to connect with voters. The accomplished CEO is fond of PowerPoint presentations and mounds of data, and he often delivers analytical answers to heartfelt questions.

When a teenage girl at a campaign event recently asked Romney what he would do on his first day as president, the candidate briskly replied: "I'd assemble the right team." Assembling the right team is a crucial task, but perhaps not the most inspiring answer for a future-or present-voter.

Personal connection may be the one element the heavily funded and meticulously organized Romney campaign can't produce. "I think it's obvious that Romney doesn't make the emotional connection for whatever reason," political analyst Sabato told WORLD. "But I don't think he can change personalities at this point."

Most likely to get stuck

In the quest for connectability, the remaining field of presidential candidates seems stuck somewhere in the middle. Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani was widely considered a presidential front-runner early on, but his unconventional strategy of ignoring early primary states has left many voters cold and Giuliani's poll numbers tumbling.

Republican Fred Thompson launched to high expectations as well, drawing in voters with his folksy, plain-spoken message and his baritone Southern drawl. But even as Thompson adds meat to his political platform, he can't manage to sustain on a large scale the enthusiasm he initially ignited.

Democrat John Edwards has struggled to ignite enthusiasm, winning more viewers to a YouTube video of his hair-combing than to campaign events. The former senator tries to connect with voters by emphasizing his humble beginnings, but he hasn't garnered enthusiasm in the state where he was born: Less than two weeks before the Democratic primary in South Carolina, Edwards trailed in third place by nearly 26 points.

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