McCain's lost battle

  • Matthew Price
  • 5 Nov 08, 05:51 AM 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.

Why did McCain lose?

  • Matthew Price
  • 5 Nov 08, 05:36 AM 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.


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 AM 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.

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