There are some pretty powerful forces within the Republican Party arrayed against John McCain. In addition to Flippin Mitt Romney and James Earl Carter Huckabee, he's facing the scorn and opposition of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter and many others in the conservative media and the right side of the blogsphere. So how come he's got a lead over Romney in every poll?
1) Distortion and exaggeration. There are many things to complain about regarding the maverick Arizona senator. I can't stand his position on immigration, campaign finance reform, judicial confirmations--the list goes on and on. But the things being said about McCain go beyond genuine complaint to absurd overstatement. McCain is not a Democrat. He's not a liberal. (He's not as conservative as I'd like, but be serious.) He's not going to destroy the GOP. He won't wreck the country. His election wouldn't be the end of the world, and most of the "normal" people out there recognize that.
2) Choice of opponents. It's laughable to hear Mitt Romney tell people that John McCain hasn't been a champion for conservative causes. Has he got a mirror? This after all is the guy who said he wasn't a Reagan Republican, who said he'd do more for gay rights than Ted Kennedy, who pushed through a huge state run health care program and Massachusetts, and was pro-choice up until two years ago. And Huck is worse. You can't stop McCain for not being conservative with candidates who aren't as conservative as he is.
3) Heroism sells. The torture John McCain suffered as a POW and the courage and character he displayed there, refusing favorable treatment and early release are a powerful testimony. The first time I remember seeing/hearing McCain was at the 1988 Republican National Convention when he told the story of a fellow prisoner who made an American flag out of scraps that the prisoners could salute. When you slam somebody with McCain's history for being an unprincipled scoundrel, it just rings false. Again, a lot of McCain's positions leave me cold, but you can't sell a story that conflicts with history that much.
4) Winning matters. The GOP is in big trouble in this election cycle. The Dems have a huge advantage in fund raising and turnout. Most Republicans think McCain is their best shot at holding the White House. And the polling data backs that up. For people who would rather win than have all of their pet issues addressed (and there isn't a candidate in the field today who hits the right notes for most people) McCain is the best choice.
Of the three remaining serious candidates (sorry, Ron Paul doesn't count) McCain is the most conservative. And therefore, I'll be voting for him next Tuesday. He's not my first, or even second choice, but he is the best option available.