John McCain might have saved my friends and me a lot of time, effort and money. If he had only let me know he was going to be a centrist Democrat in his third U.S. Senate term, I would never have become the Democratic nominee against him in 1998.
I thought I was running against a fellow who voted with Newt Gingrich and Trent Lott 95% of the time. How was I to know he'd been playing possum all that time?
This was a guy with ratings of zero from the American Federation of Teachers and the United States Student Assn.; 11% from moderate environmental groups and the Public Interest Research Group; 5% from the National Women's Political Caucus; 14% from the AFL-CIO.
I could go on and on, but my point is not to criticize our newfound friend. I'm just trying to remind myself why the heck I spent 12 months, $150,000 of my own money and more than 150,000 miles on the road telling Arizonans what a right-winger McCain was. Perhaps it is a good thing I lost (actually I was trounced). I might have deprived the country of a valuable Democratic leader.
To say McCain has come into his own since 1998 is an understatement. His presidential candidacy was the highlight of an otherwise tragic election. He stood up like a hero against the Senate leadership and the de facto administration, and crammed campaign finance reform down their throats. Now, McCain is working with progressive Democrats for a real patients' bill of rights. It looks like other such alliances may soon emerge.
Of course, McCain is far from a model Democrat. For one thing, he is quite a bit more militaristic than our party's bona fide hawks, such as Joe Lieberman. Some of McCain's votes this session have been pretty bad. He supported John Ashcroft for attorney general, though of course eight Democrats did the same. He voted to repeal ergonomics rules, and he recently voted against an amendment to the bankruptcy bill that would have allowed people whose medical bills forced them into bankruptcy to proceed under the current, more consumer-friendly system.
To be honest, I would not have traded running for the U.S. Senate for anything, even if I did end up running against the wrong guy. As an opponent, McCain was reasonably honest and quite gracious. I suppose most fellows would be gracious when they figure on winning by a landslide, but I give him credit anyway for a forthright and dignified campaign style.
I hammered away at his right-wing voting record and couldn't raise much money for advertising. He stuck to his promised campaign spending limit and beat me 2 to 1.
Personally, I hardly know Sen. McCain. I did a lot of background research on him in 1998 and have observed with interest his actions since then. I believe there is in McCain the desire to do what is good for the nation and to become a better person himself. I believe his move to the center is fueled by those noble aspirations far more than by opportunism.
Arizona is not quite as conservative a state as the national press believes. Therefore, I do not think there will be much backlash against McCain. We have an equally divided state Senate. Bill Clinton carried the state in 1996, and Al Gore might have done the same in 2000, with some effort. Although five of our six U.S. House members are Republican, two of these have hung on in toss-up districts, thanks to their personal popularity. Large influxes of retirees are said to have pulled the state to the right. Still, I do not think McCain will be in much trouble, even within his own rather splintered state party.
Sure, for a Democrat, McCain leaves something to be desired, but for a Republican, I say well done and welcome to the progressive cause. I just wish he had given me a heads up to keep my head down in 1998.