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McCain's lost battle

  • Matthew Price
  • 5 Nov 08, 05:51 GMT

John McCain - the veteran war hero - finally gave up the fight on an Arizonan lawn, under a cloudless night sky, by gently swaying palm trees. In front of him of a crowd of several thousand party supporters applauded.

John McCainAfter weeks of sometimes stilted speeches, John McCain spoke well, with a tired, slightly croaking voice. There were several boos from the crowd when he mentioned Barack Obama's name. He silenced them with a quiet "please".

"This is an historical election and I recognise the specific significance it has for African-Americans."

"Although we have come a long way from the old injustices that once stained our reputation (as a country) the memory of them still had the power to wound."

"America today is a world away from the cruel and prideful bigotry of that time. There is no better evidence of this than the election of an African-American to the presidency of the United States."

Some in the crowd cried as the truth set in, that their man had lost. They told me they wished Barack Obama well, but they said the better man had lost. Some expressed a concern for the direction in which they now believe their country will be taken. They don't believe Barack Obama is strong enough for this job. They don't see any evidence that he has ever been tested.

Then they began to file away, into the night. Some to drink at the gatherings they had hoped would be celebrations. Some simply headed home. The party is a thousand and more miles to the north, in Chicago, under another clear sky. There, people will wake up to a brave and fresh new world full of possibilities. Here, when the sun rises over Arizona, many will shake their heads, and fear for the future.

Recent entries

Why did McCain lose?

  • Matthew Price
  • 5 Nov 08, 05:36 GMT

On a hot, exhausting August day this year, in Block 133 of Mile High Stadium, Denver, Colorado, I realised that what I had just witnessed would be remembered in one of two ways.

It would either be seen as a flash-in-the-pan moment, when a candidate for president exuded a confidence that the country simply wasn't prepared to match in him.

Barack ObamaOr I would look back on Barack Obama's convention speech as the moment when this country changed, and perhaps - by extension - so too did the world.

The reason was this, and I think it helps to explain why John McCain did not win. The event at Mile High was organised down to the smallest detail, every single moment of it. I came out of that event believing Barack Obama could win this election. If organisation ever won a campaign, 2008 was the year and Obama's campaign the model to which anyone aspiring to office must now look.

In contrast, John McCain ran a poor campaign. Yes, he was faced with an historic struggle against the prevailing mood in the country. A Republican president who was deeply unpopular, an economy going down the pan, a real and true desire for change among a wide cross-section of the electorate. Yet I also believe his campaign got it wrong.

John McCainThis has been clear to me ever since I started speaking to people across this country who consider themselves Republicans. I am not writing about those who will always vote Republican. Nor for those who will never vote for a black candidate.

I am writing about the hockey mums in Pennsylvania, who worried about Sarah Palin as VP nominee, and who were not energized by the ticket itself. Those who were considering breaking with their party and voting Obama.

I am writing about the man who told me that he had supported John McCain in 2000 against Bush, but who said he would not vote for him this year because he'd been so fed up with the negative campaigning that had come out of the McCain-Palin camp.

I am writing about the voter in Indiana who agreed that John McCain is a war hero, and a man who loves his country, but that did not mean he necessarily had a pass to the White House. This voter was going to vote Republican for governor. John McCain could have had his vote. He lost it.

Why?

I spoke here in Phoenix to Wes Gullett, the co-chair of the Arizona Republican Party and a man who has worked with John McCain for many years. He knows him well. He says he's been fighting for 10 years to get John McCain into the White House.

I told him about an event last week in northern Ohio in which John McCain spoke, unscripted, from a gazebo in the centre of a small town. It was, I told him, the most lucid and energetic I had seen the senator, and I wondered whether it was a mistake not to have held more events like this.

"I agree," he said, after a second's pause. "We've been hoping that the 'gazebo' John McCain, speaking from his heart, talking directly to the American people would be the way they would run the campaign."

Mistakes were made. It was a mistake for instance to suspend the campaign and head to Washington DC to sort out the economic collapse. He set himself up, and was a victim of politics and the failure of Congress to past the bail-out plan.

Mr Gullett says that was the moment when he knew the race was over. Why did McCain go to Washington? "That's just John," he replied. "He should have killed that bill."

McCain was hugely out-spent - by hundreds of millions of dollars. He was (as already noted) out-organised.

It is not as if Barack Obama did not have his own problems. He had to spend weeks getting the Clintons and their supporters on board. John McCain could have had more of those supporters.

Some will blame the media for Barack Obama's victory. That is nonsense. Think back to the huge media reaction when the Reverend Jeremiah Wright's comments were first reported. That could possibly have sunk him, but Obama's response was a sign of what was to come. Obama bided his time, wrote a speech about race, and spoke directly to the people of this country. The media did not win it for Obama. Obama won it for Obama.

Similarly the media did not lose it for McCain. He had a bad campaign. He didn't attack Obama in the way that an independent, right-minded, honourable politician could have. There were major policy differences between the two men. He didn't exploit them.

Yes, as his campaign says, it was a tough environment for a Republican candidate, but not an impossible one. McCain may have had the economy against him. Trying to get elected after eight years of an unpopular Republican president was not easy. Obama was a strong adversary, but John McCain and his campaign team did not give him the best chance.

Live from Phoenix

  • Matthew Price
  • 5 Nov 08, 01:45 GMT

2149 MT The price of a "McCain Palin victory '08" T-shirt has dropped from $15 to $2.

2119 Sarah Palin with John McCain on stage now here in Arizona, giving his concession speech. His voice is breaking.

2113 We expect McCain out soon. We're at the main party, a few metres from the stage. I just spoke to John Voigt, the actor and father of Angelina Jolie, who said he's proud of John McCain and hands his congratulations to, as he put it, President Obama.

2048 The party here in Phoenix is under way, and the drinks are flowing. The floor is full, and people are pushing through, trying to find where the real fun is being had. There's a good atmosphere, but I can't find any sense of fun. There's been some country music of course, and most people have dressed up in their finest evening wear. Some though are filtering away. There are still many thousands here, but they know they are on the losing side.

I just chatted to a senior Republican here who said that while the figures are not all in yet, the "trend" is clear. She said however that there is no way McCain will lose Arizona. One speaker on stage said he doesn't give up until all the votes are in, for which he received a huge cheer, but it sounded pretty hollow.

1958 There are some young Republicans talking about 2012. They have read the writing on the wall. One network says McCain and Palin are meeting at the moment. That would be fun to see.

1940 I'm told that John McCain is just arriving here at the swishy resort where he's going to hold what one local newspaper said would be a BBQ party. When will he make his speech? Sooner rather than later I expect.

1845 More and more people are arriving at this election party for John McCain. I just bumped into a senior Republican official from Arizona who says the figures "are not looking good". She said we may well know the general thread of this election in an hour and a half, "or if it's really bad" even earlier.

1821 The bar at what I'm calling the C-list Republican party here in Phoenix is doing a roaring trade. The Phoenix boys' choir is on stage singing rather nicely. But apart from a small TV monitor there's no screen showing the projected results.

1756 John McCain has arrived back in Phoenix and is on his way - we hear - to this party. He chatted to reporters on his plane as he flew in. He's relaxed.

Phoenix winds down

  • Matthew Price
  • 4 Nov 08, 23:23 GMT

The McCain campaign "Victory" party is going to be very different from the Obama one. Here in Phoenix we expect between 6,000 to 8,000 people to attend.

Only five TV teams are allowed into the main area where John McCain will be. One from each of the main US networks. That was decided several weeks ago, and despite the protests from the local TV channels and international broadcasters the McCain campaign have not budged.

Did they decide a few weeks back to protect their candidate? It will prove to have been short-sighted if he can indeed pull off the comeback of his life.

Both McCain and Sarah Palin are on their way here now, we are told. John McCain's home (one of them anyway) is just a short distance away. He'll be in this complex, though sealed away from most of the journalists and lower level party officials here, within hours I'd have thought.

As for the atmosphere, I'd describe it as solid and calm. They've done all they can. They have nothing to prove. I would imagine most in the country are expecting them to lose. The pressure is off.

Down to the wire at McCain HQ

  • Matthew Price
  • 4 Nov 08, 18:14 GMT

The phone-bank at McCain HQ in Phoenix is filling up, with volunteers sitting at desks, calling potential voters.

They're ringing to see if McCain supporters have already voted and if not to get them to the polling stations. They're also ringing other voters to try to persuade them to switch sides at this last minute.

On the walls are life size pictures of John McCain, and on the front desk a roll of "Joe" stickers, which have been worn on T-shirts at McCain rallies across this country in recent days.

There's a sense in the room that every little vote counts, and that every minute spent trying to shore up those votes could be crucial. On the door is a quote from Orson Swindle, a life-long friend of John McCain's and a fellow POW in Vietnam.

One of the tortures Mr Swindle endured was sleep deprivation. On one occasion he was kept awake for 10 days. The quote reminds the party workers that however tired they may be, it's nothing in comparison to that.

I remarked to one woman that she must be exhausted. "Not at all," she replied brightly, and on message.

Update, 21:10GMT:

The polling station where John McCain cast his vote this morning was quiet at lunchtime. Perhaps 10 people arrived while I was there, chatting to one local republican party worker.

He worked on George W Bush's campaign four years ago. He said he expected more people to turn out later in the day, as offices close and the workday comes to an end.

Voters in Arizona have been told that if they reach the end of the voting queue by seven pm local time, they will be allowed to vote, however long that queue is. Close of ballots may be delayed somewhat if there's a late surge in voting.

The junior republican official also told me he'd be coming to John McCain's evening party here at the lush and extravagant Biltmore Resort in Phoenix. "I'll be there for the....um...well, victory speech I suppose. Or maybe the concession speech."

McCain's state - voting begins

  • Matthew Price
  • 4 Nov 08, 16:26 GMT

Voting has started in John McCain's home state, a state which has not been kind to previous presidential candidates with Arizona links.

"Tomorrow, we're going to reverse that unhappy tradition and I'm going to be the president of the United States," he said at his final rally, which was actually held just after midnight in Prescott, Arizona.

McCain's going to hold one final rally today, in Colorado, and then he'll pop in to visit staffers in New Mexico. Then he'll come back to Phoenix, and, like the rest of his nation, wait.

Update, 17:36 GMT:

"I've just spoken to the co chair of the republican party in John McCain's home state of Arizona. A man called Wes Gullett who told me that the republican party is in a dreadful mess. He said the republican party of Abraham Lincoln had a soul but that the republican party today had lost that and that they need to find it again.

He did insist as most republicans in his position will on a day like this, that he genuinely believes John McCain can still win this election. He said if the republicans had had any other presidential candidate than John McCain it would be "a massacre". They would be at least 20 percentage points down in his opinion.

So he said John McCain can still win this election but the look in his eyes also suggested that he believes the republicans could be in for a rough night."

Fighting to the end

  • Matthew Price
  • 4 Nov 08, 03:38 GMT

Phoenix, Arizona: By the time the sun rises over the dusty, dry landscape around Phoenix, Arizona, on election day, the sand will have run out.

There will be no more time for an October (or November) surprise. There will be no more time to sway the voters. There will be no more time full-stop.

The McCain latex masks will be marked down in price. The Rocky theme tune CD that he strides out to will be put back in its case. Joe the Plumber will vanish down the plug hole.

All there will be left is the voter, a curtain drawn behind them, deciding the fate of the man who, in his own well-worn phrase, has devoted his life to his country since the age of 17.

This is a man who by his own admission has lived in the shadow of his father and grandfather for his entire life. A man whose autobiography - written some time ago - suggests he may not yet have fulfilled his own aspirations to honour, as he sees it, the family name.

Perhaps that is why, in the face of such overwhelming odds, he does not give up. There may have been moments where his campaign seemed to change tack with alarming regularity, suggesting to some a lack of leadership at the helm. Yet John McCain has kept his belief alive, just as he did all those years ago as a prisoner-of-war.

So today, as that sun rises over Arizona, I imagine he will look out the window, stretch the arms that remain stiff from the torture he once endured, and relish his last chance to draw a few people over to his side. He is a determined man. That much has become clear in the past 18 months.

As John McCain's plane flew into Indianapolis for one of his last rallies, and taxied right to the edge of a crowd of perhaps 2,000, I thought back to those pictures from a year ago, of the senator for Arizona wheeling his own bags through an airport. His campaign was out of money, he was a loser, a no-chancer.

Yet in Indiana, under hot November sunshine, as "the Mac" strode on to the steps, and walked down towards the podium, he was most certainly back. He is enjoying these final hours.

Can he do it? He has two (slim) chances as I see it.

The first is that his campaign manager is actually right when he says that in some states, where McCain is still competitive (Colorado, New Mexico, Florida, places like that) the undecided voter will turn out for him in the end. This assumes that the polls are right when they say that anything up to 9% of voters in these states are undecided. It also assumes they will go to the polling station. It assumes too they will vote there for McCain.

The second is that voters have been lying to the pollsters. That the polls are wrong. That race will be the deciding factor in this election. Americans like to be seen (in public) to back a winner. If the latent racism in this country is greater than I think it is, then we may be in for a surprise.

That is certainly the fear of the African-American man who helped to load our 23 bags of television kit on to the conveyor belt at Indianapolis airport a few hours ago. He had voted early, last week.

When I told him that I was following John McCain, he paused, then - to a giggle from the check-in women - said: "How's the old man holding up?"

"I think he's losing at the moment," I replied.

"I've been in America too long to believe it until I see it," he said.

So although it wouldn't please the staff at check-in, John McCain does - in the minds of some - have a chance left.

I suspect though that Mr McCain, a man who is so committed to his country, who believes in its sense of fairness, its honour, its dignity, would take no joy in winning an election, simply because his fellow citizens did not want to vote for a black man.

Too 'European'

  • Matthew Price
  • 3 Nov 08, 04:37 GMT

What may not be obvious to some people, especially many of those reading this from outside the borders of the US, is how strongly many here feel about the possibility of an Obama presidency.

I'm not talking about those who want him to be their next leader. I'm referring to a large part of the country - many of whom I have met while following John McCain from rally to rally - that believes he should not be president.

This is not because of racism. There are some who do not want a black man running their country, but they are not a sizeable part of the electorate from what I have seen in recent weeks. I may be proved wrong on Tuesday, but I think that's the case.

Instead, many I have met in the last few weeks see Obama as a threat to their image of what their country truly is.

In Ohio last week I chatted to a group of men and women in their late 50s (I'd guess), who were waiting for John McCain to turn up. One told me he'd been excited by Obama when he first came on the scene. A woman agreed. Others murmured their understanding of what they were saying.

What had changed their minds? It boiled down to a sense that he was just a little bit too different. He seemed to have a different outlook, something they weren't quite sure about. Something unfamiliar.

Yes, they'd been helped along in forming this opinion by some of the rumours circulating about Obama, but I didn't sense that such rumours were the main reason for their doubts about him.

For many the fact that Barack Obama is different is intoxicating. For many others it is something that leaves them unsettled.

I'm not talking about the kind of people who yell at me outside rallies and demand to know why the media will not report the "fact" that Obama was not born in the USA. Please, just read this from a very reputable source.

This is about the people who simply feel his policies, and his approach would not be good for this nation. This is why John McCain's focus on "Barack the Redistributor" has hit a chord with many segments of the population here.

Remember Obama's comment about people clinging to their guns and their religion? Millions took that as criticism of those who go to church every Sunday, or who own a gun.

Remember also when Michelle Obama said: "For the first time in my adult life I am proud of my country"? In New York (where I am based) many I spoke to said they knew where she was coming from. Many millions though across this country did not have a clue where she was coming from. It simply sounded downright unpatriotic.

I have met many in the last few weeks who fear their country - if Obama becomes president - will be weakened.

That is because - for millions here - Barack Obama is not what they think of when they think of an American. For many I have met, he's simply too "European".

Breaking stereotypes with Cupcake

  • Matthew Price
  • 2 Nov 08, 01:11 GMT

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: I'm back in Pennsylvania, after the warmth of Virginia, and waiting for another day of frenetic campaigning from John McCain.

I want to show you part of an interview I did while following the McCain team around over the last few weeks. This is a fascinating conversation, simply because it breaks the stereotypes.

The man's name is Jason Hill, though he and his friends call him Cupcake for some reason. He's a NASCAR fan, with rebel tattoos. He describes himself as a redneck.

We saw him by the side of the road in Florida, handing out bumper stickers for Obama.

I think this sums up a lot of what this election is all about:

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Two-pronged final approach

  • Matthew Price
  • 1 Nov 08, 00:02 GMT

Columbus, Ohio: You would not expect anything else from the campaign in these last few days, but Rick Davis, McCain's campaign manager, has said: "We are witnessing, I believe, probably one of the greatest comebacks that you've seen since John McCain won the primary."

There hasn't really been anything to come back from since the primary, surely?

He says they're seeing gains in virtually every battleground state in the last week. He says they have also shaken off the effects of the financial collapse that suppressed McCain's numbers. He says states that make up a potential 270 electoral college votes are all actively in play for them.

In short, they still - in public at least - believe there is a way to win. That way - if McCain's schedule for the final day is anything to go by - consists of Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Indiana, New Mexico, and Nevada. He'll finish off in Arizona.

There seems to be a two-pronged strategy. Palin gets the base energized. McCain hangs out with his more centrist mates (Schwarzenegger and Giuliani) to try and tap into the undecided.

If this is anything to go by thoughthen those voters who haven't yet made up their minds may swing it slightly towards McCain but they won't get him close enough.

Look also at exactly what Rick Davis was saying. Polls improving in "virtually" though not "every" battleground state. Also, the statement (hope?) that states making up a "potential" of 270 votes are actively in play. There's an expression of possibility, not necessarily of confidence.

McCain's attacks against Obama's tax policies do appear to have worked, and continue to, though I feel he needs more time than he has left if they are to become a decisive factor in this election.

Comparisons are tricky, but these last few days have made me think back to the 1997 general election in the UK. In the run-up to polling day, Tony Blair's Labour Party sensed victory, but some supporters worried it might fail yet again at the polls. John Major's Conservative Party spoke of how he could win, but his supporters weren't that keen on what was on offer for them.

The day after the election Tony Blair was striding up Downing Street, all smiles. John Major went to watch the cricket. Politics moved into a new, fresh generation. For most I met that day, a country that had felt stagnant, felt alive again.

No wiggle room

  • Matthew Price
  • 30 Oct 08, 23:47 GMT

End of the day in Mentor. Joe the Plumber turned up again. He gets a huge cheer. McCain's supporters see him as a real hero. McCain says he's the only person that's managed to get a straight answer out of Obama. Which doesn't say much for McCain's debate performances, I'd argue.

I met several people today who said they believe the tax message will get through, and is doing so. I also met people who said they had initially been excited by Obama and had considered voting for him, but as they heard more about him they were turned off. The messages questioning his patriotism, branding him a socialist, linking him to Ayers et al have worked with some.

I suspect, though, with fewer than McCain needs.

So McCain devoted a whole day to just Ohio, and will do the same again tomorrow. He's told voters here he has to win this state, otherwise he won't win the election. McCain has no wiggle room. One failure and he's done for. There's nothing to show that the polls here are moving significantly in his favour. I wonder what he talks about on that bus, when he's finished the day's campaigning?

Confusion

  • Matthew Price
  • 30 Oct 08, 23:45 GMT

Route 90 heading for Mentor, to the east of Cleveland Ohio. The police are blocking the entry ramps and the McCain convoy is slowing everyone down in the evening commute.

One woman parked on the entry ramp's confused. "Who is it," she asks excitedly, "Obama?"

Straight-talking John McCain

  • Matthew Price
  • 30 Oct 08, 18:42 GMT

Sandusky, Ohio: A quick dash through the north of Ohio, the sun now warming the ground. It's such a beautiful day. We stopped at another charming little town, Sandusky, its roads lined with McCain supporters. A small but vocal group of Obama voters stood among them, shouting for their candidate.

Then the McCain campaign deployed its secret weapon.

Yes, it was John McCain, but it was a different kind of John McCain - one we have not seen for a while. He delivered a rousing, articulate, and intimate speech on a gazebo in the middle of the town.

He loved it, the crowd loved it. He was able to speak directly to people, rather than from a perch on some anonymous stage where he often seems less than comfortable. He is certainly a lot better at speaking off the cuff than he is at reading an autocue.

Why has the campaign not deployed "John the straight-talker" for what seems like an eternity? His rallies look good on TV, but today was the best performance I have seen him give. He was up close and personal with the crowd - and speaking in his own words. In an election that is so much about image, surely a relaxed, happy John McCain would have played better than the slightly awkward, slightly removed politician standing above a crowd that we have grown more used to seeing?

Is he finding his voice, and himself in the last few days?

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