McCain's bloggy rescue?

Did John McCain get rescued by bloggers? The campaign certainly sees it that way, as Stephen Dinan reports in today’s Washington Times. When few others gave McCain a hearing, conservative bloggers gave him a chance to talk at length in regularly-scheduled conference calls and in longer interviews. This allowed him to get past the national media, which had written him off as a political corpse:

Even as talk radio was brutalizing Sen. John McCain in the Republican presidential primaries, conservative bloggers reached a respectful truce with the Arizona senator over touchy issues and gave him what the campaign called a “tremendous positive psychological” boost.

The main reason: Mr. McCain’s blogger outreach, the most extensive of any presidential campaign in either party, helped keep him afloat in the dark days last summer when the major press was sizing up his campaign grave. During those times, Mr. McCain got attention and digital ink from the bloggers he invited to biweekly conference calls, and got a chance to talk policy.

“During the unpleasantness, whenever Senator McCain put himself in front of reporters, the question was always, ‘How much did you raise today, when are you dropping out,’ ” said Patrick Hynes, a conservative blogger who Mr. McCain hired in 2006. “And then we’d put him on the phone with bloggers, and they’d want to talk about Iraq, and pork and chasing down al Qaeda.”

For the campaign, it came down to deploying the campaign’s best asset — Mr. McCain himself — in a forum where he can excel.

Dinan quotes me in this article, and we had a nice conversation about this topic a few days ago. I told him then that the bloggers’ role in McCain’s resurrection could easily get overstated, and I think the campaign itself may give us more credit than we’re due. I hate to argue against blogger influence, but …

In truth, McCain was never in as much trouble as the media reported. He never dropped out of double-digit support in a crowded Republican field. McCain’s numbers always kept him in the top tier of candidates, even when Mike Huckabee came out of nowhere. McCain’s troubles centered on money and organization, not political support, and he took decisive action to fix the real problems in his campaign early enough to resolve them properly.

The blog outreach did two important things for McCain. It forced the media to start asking him questions on issues again after it became clear that the blogosphere had begun getting better quotes than they got. It also gave McCain some wind in his sails, allowing him to have fun again in his campaign. Anyone who regularly participated in these calls could hear how comfortable McCain became, and how he enjoyed bantering with the bloggers.

That all started with the candidate, though. McCain decided to survive the summer breakdown, and so he did. He decided to push hard in the fall despite the advent of Huckabee and Fred Thompson, both of whom were expected to knock him out of the race — and he prevailed there, too. He fought in every state and won more than he lost. McCain refused to quit, which set the table for his resurrection. That’s the real story of McCain’s political survival in 2007 — and the bloggers had a front-row seat for it.