McCain Iraq blogger conference call

"If you are not tough enough to repudiate a scurrilous attack, I don’t know how you are tough enough to be President."

Matt Lewis. He asks about where the other GOP candidates are on the surge.

"I don’t pay that much attention to the other campaigns. The reason that I responded to governor Romney is that he said ‘apparently’, etc. … I am the only one who repudiated Rumsfeld’s strategy." He follows up with "Is it the responsibility of a Republican candidate? Are they off-base with them not getting behind it?" McCain responds, "I’d like to see Republican candidates more engaged and more supportive. Obviously, the Democrats are going to try again to force withdrawal."

Jennifer Rubin. "Do you sense a stiffening of the spine?"

 "I think that was helpful. … Success on the ground has been helpful as well. … Proud of the President as well. I am glad the President went to Baghdad. We do need to put more pressure on the Maliki government."

Paul Mirengoff. "Do you think that committing to withdrawal is an optimum strategy?"

"I think that one of the things that he’s saying is that the Iraqi military will be able to be more engaged. … There are problems within the Pentagon with this surge."

Betsy Newmark of Betsy’s Page. Her student asks, "If you are elected PResident, but the public is still opposed to the war, what can you do …?"

"You have to show success on the ground. … I think the next six months are going to be critical. We are going to have to show enough success or we will be forced out."

Follow up, "How will history regard GWB’s Presidency?" McCain responds that it will depend on Iraq, and he compared with Truman.

Robert Bluey . "What would you tell the American people tomorrow in President Bush’s speech?" McCain responds, as he has, that he would give more details. He also says that he would admit failure. "You have to admit mistakes and show them where we are succeeding. Share their frustrations. Share their sorrow." Followup on Iran. "Is the admistration doing enough to hilghlight Iran?" McCain: "I would highlight it more"

Jim Addison. He asked whether the Dems are just mouthing talking points. McCain says that the Dems have just made up their minds.

Phil Klein from AmSpec. He asks about the process. McCain responds:

"The first of October is the beginning of the fiscal year. It should disturb all Americans that Harry Reid is putting this controversial legislation on the authorization bill. … Reid is negotiating with some Republicans to act on a resolution. … I know I should be out fiundraising and campaigning. This is far more important … I think it is that serious. "

Doug Lambert. He asks why we don’t take out Al-Sadr.

"Well, I agree with you. When they first had a warrant out for his arrest, I told [the generals], ‘Go get this guy.’ … Now it is very tough. He bounces back and forth between Iran. … "

Follow up about the Iranian border. "You might see American troops on the Iranian border. … Sadr announced a 6-week moratorium"

Jim Geraghty from NRO. A bunch of questions. "Should Dems return donations from MoveOn?" "Sure, but they should denounce it?" "Do you think that the hearings addressed the concerns of any wavering lawmakers?" "I hope so. … I could not have asked for a better performance from either of them."

I asked about what the Iowans at his events were thinking, given the polling that indicates that IA caucus-goers want an early withdrawal. "They are interested in getting out. I am interested in getting out. … I also think that Americans don’t want to lose. … like Harry Reid. … You get through some of the prism."

Matt Lewis again. He asks about polling. "Do you have your mojo back?" McCain responds that:

"We had some serious problems … most of them were budgetary. … Good turnout at townhalls in Iowa. … Better in New Hampshire. … Very anti-war in Iowa… More anti-war in New Hampshire. … Strong popular support for the war in South Carolina."