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Does McCain Have a Sense of Yuma?
Political Junkie
Send your questions about campaigns and elections.

By Ken Rudin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, December 10, 1999

Question: Has there ever been a case in which someone who has had a legitimate shot at capturing his party's presidential nomination has been so "dissed" by the folks back home? I am referring to Arizona Sen. John McCain. I'm quite sure that everyone who runs for office makes political enemies along the way. But usually, if they're as successful in their home state as McCain, they either quash their enemies or are able to keep the criticism at a minimum. Such is not the case with McCain. If the polls are to be believed, he is now running neck-and-neck with Texas Gov. George W. Bush in the pivotal state of New Hampshire. And yet Arizona Gov. Jane Hull, a Republican, has become an outspoken proponent not of her home-state senator, but of Bush. Can you think of another case in which a prominent elected official decided to endorse someone other than another elected statewide official of the same party for the presidential nomination? – Jeffrey L. Katz, Bethesda, Md.

Answer: It certainly is extraordinary how the breach between McCain and Gov. Hull has been so great that she would actually endorse another candidate. As you say, others who have sought the presidency have been able for the most part to keep a lid on the home-state criticism. Part of McCain's failure to do so is the fact that he has an unforgiving temper, has stepped on a lot of toes in Arizona, and reportedly has long held a dismissive attitude toward the governor. Other state Republicans also have felt his wrath and have thrown their support to other candidates.

But it would be wrong to say that McCain has serious problems with his fellow Arizona Republicans. Sen. Jon Kyl and all five GOP House members have endorsed him. And he has won election to the Senate three times, including last year's 69 percent victory. That was the best showing for any GOP Senate candidate in Arizona history, including the revered Barry Goldwater.

While it may be unprecedented for a governor like Hull to endorse someone other than her own state's senator for the presidential nomination, there is a long history of bad blood between same-state/same-party statewide officials in the middle of a presidential race. In 1984, while Sen. John Glenn was seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, his fellow Ohio Democratic senator Howard Metzenbaum had virtually no relationship with him. That stemmed from their two primary battles against each other, in 1970 (when Metzenbaum won) and 1974 (when Glenn pulled off the upset). Metzenbaum had no role in Glenn's presidential effort. He waited until Glenn withdrew from the race to endorse a candidate, but it was clear the two did not like each other.

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Birch Bayh's 1972 presidential bid was stymied by sniping from fellow Indiana Dem Vance Hartke. (Collection of Ken Rudin)

In 1971, as Sen. Birch Bayh (D-Ind.) was preparing to run for president, Vance Hartke, his fellow Indiana Democratic senator, often disparaged Bayh behind closed doors and speculated that his campaign was going nowhere. Adding insult to injury, Hartke himself talked about running for president, and when Bayh pulled out of the race because of his wife's health, Hartke jumped in.

When Sen. Estes Kefauver ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1956, his fellow Tennessee Democrat, Sen. Albert Gore Sr., refused to help with his campaign. And at the national convention that year, when Democratic nominee Adlai Stevenson threw the choice of a running mate to the delegates, both Kefauver and Gore ran against each other. Kefauver ultimately won.

And in 1952, when California Gov. Earl Warren was seeking the Republican presidential nomination, Sen. Richard Nixon secretly undermined his effort at the convention. Nixon eventually was rewarded with the vice-presidential spot under Dwight Eisenhower.

Question: What do you think will be the effect on the Republican party establishment if somehow McCain is able to win the nomination? With most of the money, resources and endorsements going to Bush, it seems as if the party would be in deep trouble if he is not the nominee. Moreover, it seems as if the party would never support a ban of soft money as part of its platform, which is a main position McCain is running on. – Andrew Wong, New York, N.Y.

Answer: Those in the GOP who were never caught up in the George W. Bush craze have long posed these questions: Why the rush to endorse him, especially when he has not been tested? Why jump on his bandwagon well before the voters have had a chance to size him up? The problem all along is that while the Republican establishment showered the Texas governor with money and endorsements, voters weren't paying attention. Now that they are, doubts are emerging about Bush's intelligence and gravitas. The concerns have increased in the wake of McCain's climb in the polls, his reputation as a straight talker, and the candidate forums in which McCain excelled while Bush did no better than hold his own.

It's one thing for the Republican establishment to consolidate behind a candidate early. It happened in 1996 with Bob Dole and in 1988 with Bush's father. This is, after all, a party that usually rewards the early front-runner. But it's another thing for these leaders to actively oppose a candidate, and that's what many of them are doing with regard to McCain. A McCain nomination would be cataclysmic for the GOP leaders in the Senate, who resent the Arizonan's independence and his insistence on ridding the system of soft money. It would be the greatest affront to the party elders since at least 1940, when another outsider, Wendell Willkie, won over the delegates and took the nomination in an upset.

McCain is basically running against his own Senate leadership, practically challenging the Trent Lotts and Mitch McConnells of the world in nearly every speech. If you thought there were sour relations and gridlock between the Senate and the White House with Clinton in office, just imagine what it would be like if McCain were to make it to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Question: Can you envision a Reform Party ticket comprised of McCain-Bradley or Bradley-McCain? – Mark Tobin, Grand Forks, N.D.

Answer: More and more people are hoping that either McCain or Bill Bradley – or both – will bolt their respective parties and seek the Reform Party nomination. That hope grew stronger with the recent speculation that they will travel to New Hampshire together to reenact the famous 1995 handshake on campaign finance reform between President Clinton and then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich. They shook hands over a promise to appoint a commission to study limits on financing campaigns, and reform advocates now look at that agreement as the ultimate form of hypocrisy, since nothing ever came of the proposal. Both McCain and Bradley have been stressing changes in the way campaigns are financed in their presidential efforts.

But bolting to a third-party seems highly unlikely. Bradley is already under fire from Vice President Gore for having considered an independent presidential bid in 1996. And while some in the Republican Party – including more than a few senators – would shed no tears if McCain left the GOP, I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for it to happen. McCain teased viewers about this a few months ago on the "Tonight Show," saying that he has a lot in common with Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, the Reform Party's highest elected official. Ventura has been encouraging a McCain/Reform candidacy. Both, said McCain, served in the Navy. Both wrestled – Ventura professionally and McCain in high school and college. And, McCain slowly added, "I occasionally wear a feathered boa around the Senate."

I'd place greater odds on McCain wearing the boa than joining the Reform Party.

See also:
Can McCain Afford to Skip Iowa? (August 6, 1999)
Citizen McCain's Panama Problem (July 9, 1998)


Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: junkie@washingtonpost.com

Ken Rudin, political editor at National Public Radio, is also the creator of washingtonpost.com's ScuttleButton contest.


© Copyright 1999 Ken Rudin


 
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