washingtonpost.com
Election 2008: John McCain's Story

Michael Leahy
Post National Political Reporter
Friday, August 29, 2008 3:00 PM

Post national political writer Michael Leahy was online Friday, Aug. 29 to discuss his profile of Sen. John McCain.

The transcript follows.

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Michael Leahy: Thanks to everybody for joining our chat today. I know that my story, which is running in our Sunday paper, has just been released on-line within the last couple of hours -- so I'll be glad to address some McCain-related topics unrelated to the story. I see, by our questions, that people are abuzz by the VP selection, so we can talk some about that as well.

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Hartford, Conn.: Hello. Is McCain really so arrogant that he believes any woman on his ticket will do? Are we women voters, so easy that just wearing a skirt will qualify for our vote? This is very offensive.

Michael Leahy: I think it's fair to say that people are deeply surprised -- stunned, in some cases -- by the selection. Like so much in John McCain's life, the pick represents a huge roll of the dice -- but the payoff on this bet could be huge if his calculation is right: that at once, with the choice of Palin, he solidifies the social conservative base within his party; picks up some disaffected Hillary Clinton-backers, particularly women; and strikes a chord with those independents who look at Palin and think that she buttresses McCain's credentials as someone attracted to purported reformers and mavericks. That said, the risk is considerable, particularly if she is perceived as unqualified on the national security front, believe analysts.

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Houston, Texas: Interesting article. I am stunned at the parallels between McCain and Bush, which include a rebellious youth, low passion for academic pursuits, and reliance on parental influence to avoid certain failure. It solidified for me that the similarities between these two individuals are even deeper than I thought. While academic achievement is but one indicator of intelligence, don't we really need a president who has demonstrated above average intellectual abilities??

Michael Leahy: Thank you for your comments. I'm not here to offer an opinion on these matters. But let me point out that history is replete with stories of failed presidents who were academic successes. Similarly, one can cite successful presidents (Truman comes to mind) who did not benefit from glittering educations. In McCain's case, I think all those themes you referenced trace back to how "boxed-in" he felt during his early life, as one friend put it. He felt his future foreordained and was rebelling. Those moments, as the story points out, shaped his youth, early adulthood and the years since.

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New Hampshire: Could you offer some insight into McCain's temperament? I have heard some hair-raising stories (some from Republicans) about his anger. What do you know about this?

Michael Leahy: In answer to your question: Earlier this year I wrote a story about the issue of Senator McCain's temperament. I suspect you can find it in our Washington Post archives.

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washingtonpost.com: McCain: A Question of Temperament (Washington Post, April 20, 2008)

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What the heck? VA: Is McCain crazy? It's like he looked at the Dan Quayle selection and decided to double down on it. I know Quayle did not lose Mr. Bush the election, but I have never heard that Bush won because of Quayle rather than in spite of him.

If the idea was to provide a relief valve for women who had supported Hillary Clinton but did not like Obama, why not announce this a week ago, when the disagreement was at its worst, instead of after the work the Democratic party has done this week -- surely much of it successful -- to mend it?

A ticket openly determined to make abortion illegal and return it to the back alley days hardly seems likely to appeal to those voters. Plus, the timing makes him seem like a follower instead of a leader. What the heck?

Michael Leahy: As I said in my earlier answer to a related-Palin question, sure, the risk in the selection is considerable. But let me disagree a bit with the comparison you offer here: In retrospect, it's hard to see what the calculated upside was with Quayle in 1988 -- other than that he was offered as the "young, energetic, telegenic" running mate of George Bush (I somehow remember a couple of comparisons to Robert Redford, amazingly). But with Palin, as I noted earlier, you get the approval of social conservative and at least a shot perhaps at a slice of Hillary backers -- that is at least the presumed theory behind the choice, and so it has a rationale arguably absent in the Quayle choice.

Remember, too, that it's been a lonnnnnnnnnng time since a veep choice really hurt anybody -- and perhaps a long time since a veep helped anybody. No matter what anyone thinks these days of Dick Cheney, his presence on the ticket in 2000 likely reassured a small but significant slice of voters worried about Bush's national security credentials. And Gore, with his relative youth and wonkishness, probably brought a bit of synergy and heft to the Clinton tickets. But those examples aside (along witth the famous role of LBJ in helping capture Texas for JFK in '60, it's hard to see where veeps have helped -- or hurt. Lloyd Bentsen's presence against Quayle in the Veep stakes didn't help Dukakis an iota in 1988, after all.

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Boston: So do you think the "short list" guys are thrilled for McCain's surprise pick?

Michael Leahy: Reportedly, Mitt Romney didn't find out what was happening until very late in the process. Given that the Republican Party has historically tended to embrace the notion of successors and heirs in the party's nominating process, a Romney veep nomination here would have arguably given him a decided advantage going into the 2012 race, if McCain isn't elected. For that reason, Romney probably lost the most here.

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Washington, D.C.: Why this VP pick doesn't seem to feel genuine? Even the smirk on McCain's face on the front page of the wp.com, doesn't look like he cares who his VP is.

I don't think John McCain realizes Obama and Clinton were in a very close and historical campaign and now he just added salt to our wound. We were watching history with Obama and Clinton and it's really starting to show that McCain is out for himself and out of touch of being a good leader.

Michael Leahy: Wow, I see everybody here wants to talk about veep matters.

I think your question here refutes your premise. Any shrewd campaign seeks to take advantage of an opening left by the opponent. The McCain campaign obviously recognizes the hard feelings spawned by the Democrats' nomination struggles and wants to exploit those divisions, if at all possible. That is Campaigning 101. The real question here is whether the selection of Palin gives the Republicans its best shot of doing it. I think we'll have a clearer answer to that within a few weeks, particularly after the veep debate between Palin and Biden.

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Potomac, No longer voting: I'm supposed to vote for ovaries over quality. If he really wanted my vote AND wanted to pick a woman, he could have gone with Hutchinson or Snowe or Whitman. Especially Whitman. I would never vote for Obama but this is a ridiculous choice. Good luck to whomever wins. At this point it's a crapshoot.

Michael Leahy: I'm posting this comment simply because it reflects the opinion of a few other chatters who'd hoped that another woman would be tapped.

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Michael Leahy: I see we've exceeded our alloted time. Many thanks for the questions and comments. Feel free to drop me a line about my story on McCain's formative early years, which is running in the paper on Sunday but has just been placed on-line for our readers. Look forward to chatting with everyone soon.

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