Jewish World Review Nov. 7, 2008 / 9 Mar-Cheshvan 5769
McCain at ease after loss
By Roger Simon
John McCain faced a barbecue.
"I got nine racks of ribs," McCain told his closest aide and co-author, Mark Salter. "And I will be cooking them up."
McCain was in Phoenix, where Tuesday night he had delivered a gracious and eloquent concession speech. Then he got about six or seven hours' sleep before preparing to head out to his Sedona home with his wife, Cindy and enough friends to consume all those ribs.
The end had not been in doubt for weeks. McCain had expected to do better in Pennsylvania and Ohio he lost both states but he knew in his head he wasn't going to pull off some stunning upset, even though he had been hoping for one in his heart.
"An army lives on hope," Salter told me Wednesday afternoon. "Our polling showed that more than 60 percent of voters identified Obama as a liberal. Typically, a candidate is not going to win the presidency with those figures. But I think the country just disregarded it. People didn't care. They just wanted the biggest change they could get."
And they got it. Obama was seen as the change candidate. McCain was seen as the guy who wanted to stop the change candidate.
"It was a very difficult environment for any Republican, even one with such a unique brand," Salter said. "Given everything we were dealt the wrong-track numbers, a god-awful economy, an opponent with $700 million to spend I am as proud of John McCain today as I have ever been."
But wasn't he a different candidate? I asked. As early as April 2006, after traveling with McCain in New Hampshire, I wrote: "Though McCain said he enjoyed himself, he was not the rollicking campaigner of six years ago. At a number of stops, he was largely subdued and sometimes almost somber."
Salter disagreed, saying McCain was no less enthusiastic this time. "Nobody could doubt the fire in his belly," Salter said. "He fought his heart out. Nobody has ever had the challenges he faced. It was a steep hill to climb, and he did everything he could."
Salter continued: "Everybody in your profession said he 'couldn't drive a single narrative,' and they counted the seconds between his answers and they played a gotcha game. The New York Times probably had more stories about my candidate's wife than they had on Barack Obama! We didn't set the rules for this campaign."
So the press was a factor?
"The press was a factor," Salter said. "We had a well-financed opponent a very talented opponent with a disciplined campaign a bad economy, the weight of the Bush administration, and that was enough to beat us.
"But I do believe, and will never be dissuaded otherwise, that the media had their thumb on the scale. Maybe if the media had been fair, we still would have lost. But there were two different standards of scrutiny for us and Obama."
McCain's own attitude toward the press certainly changed. The candidate who had spent unlimited time with the press in 2000 walled himself off from the press in 2008. While the press was jokingly referred to as McCain's "base" in 2000, it was largely seen as the enemy in 2008.
"I take nothing away from Obama; they ran one hell of a campaign," Salter said. "But the press became another one of the environmental disadvantages we had."
But why do you think the press turned on you? I asked.
"Part of it was that Obama was the new story," Salter said. "He was dazzling. We all felt the tug I feel it to a certain extent about civil rights reconciliation, and how in backing Obama we could all do our bit. Many reporters felt it, too."
As for McCain, Salter says he is "remarkably relaxed and at ease" after his loss.
"He is the most resilient, toughest human being I have ever met in my life," Salter said. "For 50 years, he has followed the orders he received from the American people. Last night, he held his head up and he bowed to history."
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© 2008, Creators Syndicate