McCain's Temper May Become an Issue
By Scott Thomsen
Associated Press Writer
Sunday, Oct. 31, 1999; 6:38 p.m. EST PHOENIX While rising in the GOP presidential polls, Sen. John McCain is facing questions about what some Arizona political leaders view as his quick temper and whether it might hinder him as president.
In a front page article and separate editorial Sunday, The Arizona Republic said it wanted the nation to know about the "volcanic" temper McCain has unleashed on several top state officials.
Those who have been on the receiving end of a McCain uproar include Republican Gov. Jane Hull, former Republican Gov. Rose Mofford and former Democratic Mayor Paul Johnson of Phoenix.
Mrs. Hull, a supporter of GOP presidential front-runner George W. Bush, has acknowledged that her relationship with McCain has been cool and told an interviewer recently McCain "has to keep control" of his temper.
A Hull spokesman, Francie Noyes, said Sunday the governor had no further comment on the matter of McCain's temperament and that "she wants to move on to other things."
But the Arizona Republic, which endorsed McCain for each of his five congressional races but has not yet made an endorsement in the presidential race, was direct.
It declared in an editorial:
"If McCain is truly a serious contender for the presidency, it is time the rest of the nation learned about the John McCain we know in Arizona. There is also reason to seriously question whether he has the temperament, and the political approach and skills, we want in the next president of the United States."
McCain spokesman Dan Schnur said the criticism reflects McCain's emergence as a serious contender, resulting media scrutiny, and the fact that the former Vietnam POW "is a fighter and has always been a fighter."
"When a candidate moves up in the polls as quickly as John McCain has there's bound to be closer media scrutiny," Schnur said. "Show me a politician who's never offended anyone and I'll show you a politician who's pretty useless to his constituents."
Earlier in the week, McCain blamed the Bush campaign for helping plant recent temper stories and said the "hothead" portrayal was inaccurate.
"Do I insult anybody or fly off the handle or anything like that? No, I don't," insisted McCain.
Pam Johnson, executive editor of The Republic, said her paper's coverage decisions were made independently, not at the suggestion of anyone in the Bush campaign.
"A lot of the admirable qualities of Sen. McCain have been widely reported nationally. A lot of the temperament issues have not," said Johnson, who is in charge of the paper's editorial and news pages.
Even some of McCain's supporters acknowledge a short fuse, but say that should not disqualify him to be president.
"I think John McCain is as steady as they come. I've seen him get really passionate about issues, but I don't see it as losing control," said Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz. He called McCain's passion refreshing.
State Superintendent Lisa Graham Keegan, who also is a McCain supporter, said she has argued heatedly with McCain many times over the years but that his "passion ... is positive."
"I'm not looking for someone who serves tea in white gloves. That's not attractive in a president," said Keegan, describing McCain as a calm, affable person, but one ready to jump into a fray.
In the past week, the Wall Street Journal and New York Times also have published articles documenting McCain's often testy relationships in his home state.
Mrs. Hull told the Times that McCain's temper "is something that John has to keep control of." According to the Times, when Mrs. Hull was asked to describe McCain's temper she pretended to hold a telephone receiver several inches from her ear.
In Washington, McCain has kept his temper under control, publicly at least. He showed restraint during Senate floor debate on campaign finance reform one of his priority issues when Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., tried to goad him into losing his temper.
Larry Sabato, a political science professor the University of Virginia, said McCain's temper is a legitimate subject for questions, but noted a number of president have had fiery tempers.
Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon were famous for having bad tempers. Since his election, current President Bill Clinton has become known for having one also.
"It's not disqualifying because so many presidents have had bad tempers, but it's important to know about," Sabato said. "You want to know what the fundamental character of a candidate for president is."
McCain's temper could be presented in a good light or bad, Sabato said. Supporters can say McCain listens to the people not politicians, while critics may charge that he can't work with others, he said.
© Copyright 1999 The Associated Press