Archive » March 6, 2008
MCCAIN'S WALLS COME DOWN
By Nancy Benac, AP Writer
For McCain, a moment to savor as the walls finally come tumbling down
WASHINGTON (AP) — Any other day, John McCain might have answered a reporter’s question about campaign strategy straight on.
Tuesday night, it was different.
“I’ve got to savor the moment,” the indefatigable warrior said as he at last laid claim to the Republican presidential nomination that had eluded him eight years ago.
It was a sweet victory for McCain, a prisoner of war in Vietnam whose life story has had a remarkable rise-and-fall-and-rise-again rhythm to it. His quest for the presidency has been no different.
Eight years ago this week, McCain folded his 2000 presidential campaign with a vow to “keep trying to force open doors where there are walls.”
One wall after another presented itself to McCain in his quest for the nomination this time, and he broke through them all.
The long-ago front-runner for the 2008 nomination, McCain found his campaign in serious trouble by the time he made his candidacy formal last April.
He’d had to slash a bloated campaign staff as fundraising lagged and polls showed him sliding.
But McCain, a former Navy pilot, knew a thing or two about pressing forward in the face of adversity.
As a prisoner in Vietnam for more than five years, he’d been forced by his captors to sign a confession and later wrote that he doubted “I would ever stand up to any man again. Nothing could save me.”
McCain, though, proved his resilience, and refused to accept release from Hanoi before prisoners who had been held longer.
McCain’s latest comeback began in a war zone as well — half a world away at a place called, fittingly enough, Camp Victory.
As his presidential campaign unraveled back home, McCain spent Independence Day 2007 at the sprawling American headquarters on the edge of Baghdad and watched in the heat as 588 U.S. troops re-enlisted. Afterward, the soldiers swarmed McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., to thank them for their support.
Depressed, doubtful his campaign could prevail, McCain turned to Graham on the flight home and said, “We can’t give up on those kids. ... We have to keep this campaign up.”
McCain remembers the moment as a turning point.
Before long, he was traveling Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina on his “No Surrender” bus tour, an exhortation not only for the U.S. course in Iraq but also for himself.
“I was experienced enough to know that our campaign was in trouble,” McCain later recalled. “But I was determined to struggle on.”
McCain’s new resolve after the Iraq trip last summer didn’t lessen the disarray he confronted upon his return home. He had just laid off more than 50 campaign workers and slashed the pay of others. He had $2 million in the bank, a pittance for a presidential candidate. He was running in single digits in the polls in Iowa and South Carolina, two early voting states, trailing even Fred Thompson, who hadn’t entered the race.
The death watch on his candidacy had begun, forcing him to bat away speculation he would drop out.
“Ridiculous,” he insisted.
Not much earlier, McCain had been the candidate to beat in a crowded field of potential Republican candidates.
The 2006 midterm elections had barely ended when he’d taken his first formal steps toward a second presidential run, forming an exploratory committee and offering himself as a “commonsense conservative” in the tradition of Ronald Reagan. He worked to build ties to conservatives who had been alienated from his first presidential run in 2000.
McCain, who lost the GOP nomination to George W. Bush in 2000, created a powerhouse national organization for his second run, a command hierarchy akin to Bush’s, in fact.
The imposing structure didn’t fit McCain, who’s at his best as the scrappy insurgent, in close contact with voters, in easy give-and-take with reporters.
The play of world events worked against him, too.