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McCain masters political comebacks

Local Commentary

Posted: May 25, 2008 1:31 a.m.
Updated: July 26, 2008 5:02 a.m.
In the 1992 Democratic New Hampshire primary, while drafting a concession speech to massage a draining eight-point second -place finish, Clinton speechwriter Paul Begala concocted a line that maneuvered the Gennifer-Flowers-draf- letter-drenched Bill Clinton into the primary's seeming winner.

By spinning a second place finish that had actually fizzled from a 2-point lead on Jan. 19, according to a Boston Globe poll, into the magical circus tent voila of "the comeback kid," the Clinton campaign smothered the primary victory of local boy Paul Tsongas and positioned itself as the psychological front-runner. For Clinton, that "comeback" was more Barnum and Bailey shtick than snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.

But for John McCain, this presidential season has been a tutorial in non-fiction political comebacks. Side-stepping McCain's political near-death experience of last spring, there were campaign ruptures that begged for repair long before media talking heads began closing the coffin on his second presidential bid.

So deep and alarming were these ruptures that a Republican lobbyist intimately involved in Arizona state politics told me in late 2006 that McCain's presidential bid would be buried by committed enemies - on both sides of the aisle - parading the skeletons in his closet.

One such skeleton was the senator's foul-mouthed, volatile temper. No secret to Arizona political insiders, the presumptive Republican nominee's temper is the stuff of whispered but real alarm throughout Arizona state politics. That lobbyist, who contemplated a possible position on the McCain campaign team in 2006 prior to becoming a lobbyist, repeatedly told me that McCain "has a tempter problem."

His repeated use of the word "problem" and the severe nature of McCain's temper, as described to me by a former female Jon Kyle staffer, went far beyond the love-thy-country "passion" that Cindy McCain described her husband's temper as on a recent episode of "The View."

Contradicting Mrs. McCain's consistent claim that her husband has "no temper problem." this lobbyist perceived the presumptive nominee's temper as such an issue that it would be a principal tool used by McCain's enemies to surely derail his presidential campaign.

Whereas McCain claims that his hatchet-burying session with the late Rev. Jerry Falwell is a prime example of the tone of fence-mending that a McCain administration would bring to the White House, I was told by various sources that that plain old pandering - as many conservative Arizonans see it - is another McCain fault that has further angered his home state enemies.

It is a not-so-secretly held belief by many conservative Arizonans that the McCain-Falwell reconciliation was a calculated high wire act for the political purpose of mending fences with the religious right to help ensure their support for his presidential campaign. That, mingled with his position on immigration, his opposition to a federal ban on same-sex marriages, and his sudden about-face regarding the Bush tax cuts, has carved a vocal rift between Arizona conservatives and their maverick senator.

To quiet that rift, every re-election season, as that Republican lobbyist informed me, the McCain team utilizes the more conservative senator Jon Kyle to ease conservative Arizonians' fears about McCain.

Long before he had to come back from a crumbling campaign last spring, the McCain team scored several mini-comebacks against entrenched opposition on the home front. His recent tour of re-introducing himself to the American people has given him occasion for delivering calming assurances to those alarmed by temper rumors, and alleged pandering,.

And though he has all but locked up the Republican nomination, I would bet that his team still has an eye on his beloved Arizona. Money may be the mother's milk of politics but skeletons are the snake's venom of many a sure political bet.

Andre Hollings is a Santa Clarita resident. His column reflects his own views, not necessarily those of The Signal.


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