Sen. John McCain prepared to march on the Russian consulate in New York today to highlight what he maintains is an anti-democratic effort to deny him access to the March 7 New York primary ballot by state politicians who are aligned with his Republican presidential nomination rival, Texas Gov. George W. Bush.
As the Arizona senator spoke to about 1,000 people at a breakfast meeting of the South Shore Chamber of Commerce here, his aides scrambled to set up the event, which they gleefully hoped would embarrass Bush and his New York allies, including Gov. George Pataki and state GOP chairman William Powers. The task was complicated by a winter snowstorm that threatened to disrupt travel along the East Coast.
McCain was in a buoyant mood this morning, joking aboard his campaign bus that "I'll probably be assassinated by a KGB agent with a sniper rifle." Asked if the appearance outside the consulate was a lark, McCain said, "No, but it's fun. It's not a lark. It's Pee Wee's great adventure."
"It's serious," McCain added. "We've got to do everything we can to get attention to the fact that I may be deprived of the opportunity to stand before the voters of New York. I'm serious. Yes, it's fun and I'll enjoy it. It's a fun part of campaigning, but it has a very serious motive. There's only one state in America that there's a chance that I won't be on the ballot. And that's serious business, but you can have fun while you're going about serious business."
McCain noted that both former Sen. Alfonse D'Amato and New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, usually rivals within the state GOP, have both called on Bush's New York allies to drop their challenge to McCain's place on the primary ballot,
"It will be the first time in the political history of New York that you have Al D'Amato and Rudy Giuliani agreeing," he said. "I think we can ratchet it up."
New York's arcane ballot access laws, among the most difficult in the country, require candidates to file petitions signed by registered voters in each of the state's 31 congressional districts as well as statewide. McCain supporters have filed petitions in 25 districts and statewide, but Bush's allies who control the state Republican party are challenging the McCain petitions in more than half of those districts and statewide.
At times, McCain has referred to the "Stalinist tactics" of his New York adversaries. When he was asked about the dispute at the chamber of commerce breakfast here this morning, he said, "It would be very helpful if Gov. Bush told Gov. Pataki and Mr. Powers that the people of New York deserve a choice. The days of communist apparatchiks are over."
McCain's planned appearance at the Russian consulate was meant to underscore this rhetorical wink to one party politics that was practiced in the former Soviet Union. At one point on Wednesday, the jaunt to the consulate appeared to have been called off, but a McCain aide said today this was only because of logistical complications stemming from the weather and that McCain remained enthusiastics about the idea.
"McCain loves the snow," the aide said. "Yes, snow, Russia, McCain wanted to do it in front of the consulate."