Can McCain deliver his home state?
Even in Arizona his rift with the far right is cutting into his 'favorite son' appeal.
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"He's got a real problem with the social conservatives and die-hard Bush supporters," says David Berman, a senior research fellow with Arizona State University's Morrison Institute. "Contrary to his claims that he doesn't have a bad temper, he's blown up at quite a few people here. He doesn't tolerate fools easily."Skip to next paragraph
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"On the other hand," Dr. Berman adds, "he has so much appeal with moderate Republicans, Democrats, and even independents that he doesn't need that base for a statewide vote."
McCain's hard push for office
McCain is like a lot of people who live in Arizona: They were not born here but moved to the state for the climate, work, affordable homes, or Western values.
After his second marriage, to a well-connected heiress to a beer distributorship here, McCain in 1980 moved to Arizona and set out to win a seat in Congress. He and his wife, Cindy, purchased a house in Mesa in 1982, within the First Congressional District, where incumbent Rep. John Rhodes (R) was unexpectedly retiring.
McCain's first campaign, engineered by top Rhodes consultant Jay Smith, is legendary here. The novice politician boned up on Arizona issues – mainly water, mining, and native American rights – and took to the streets. For six hours a day, six days a week, McCain knocked on doors, introduced himself to thousands of people, and wore out three pairs of shoes in the process – maintaining a blistering pace even as the mercury soared above 100 degrees F. His father-in-law's company and connections, too, provided McCain an entree to the state's corporate and political leaders.
"He's quite simply the hardest-working candidate that I ever encountered in 35 years of being involved in political campaigns," says Mr. Smith, CEO of Smith & Harroff Inc., a political consulting firm in Alexandria, Va., who worked with McCain for a decade. "No one comes close to the energy level and enthusiasm that he displayed obviously in his first campaign, but [also] in all his subsequent campaigns.... He is just indefatigable."
During that first Republican primary, some rivals tried to tag McCain a carpetbagger and an opportunist. That not only didn't stick, but McCain turned it to his advantage. As Smith recounts it (and as detailed in Robert Timberg's book "The Nightingale's Song"), McCain fielded questions about those claims for weeks. But one night, apparently fed up, he responded, rather hotly.
"Listen pal, I spent 22 years in the Navy. My father was in the Navy. My grandfather was in the Navy. We in the military service tend to move a lot.... I wish I could have had the luxury, like you, of growing up and living and spending my entire life in a nice place like the First District of Arizona, but I was doing other things. As a matter of fact, when I think about it now, the place I lived longest in my life was Hanoi," referring to the 5-1/2 years he spent as a POW in the infamous prison in North Vietnam.
Smith says there was silence for a few moments, then thunderous applause.
McCain won the GOP primary, one of his closest races ever. The general election, as well as subsequent elections to the US Senate, was pretty much a walk in the park for the honored war hero.
Help during the Keating Five scandal
McCain's big winning margins
U.S. House elections
William Hegerty (D) 31%
John McCain (R) 66%
Richard Dodge (L) 4%
Harry Braun III (D) 22%
John McCain (R) 78%
U.S. Senate elections
John McCain (R) 60%
Richard Kimball (D) 40%
Claire Sargent (D) 32%
John McCain (R) 56%
Ed Ranger (D) 27%
John McCain (R) 69%
Stuart Starky (D) 21%
Ernest Hancock (L) 3%
John McCain (R) 77%
Sources: Arizona Secretary of State; www.azsos.gov/election/PreviousYears.htm