Cover Story

A change will do you good

Rain in the desert, a Reaganite McCain, and other irregularities of the campaign season

Issue: "Bush: Crunch time," March 4, 2000

in Phoenix - Dust clouds and rain descended upon Arizona voters the night before their Feb. 22 presidential primary, abruptly ending a six-month dry spell. As voters headed to the polls the next morning, lingering clouds veiled the state's jagged red mountains. But they weren't all that was obscuring voter vision on Tuesday. A fog of political confusion also swept in with Sen. John McCain's arrival. For Mr. McCain, each primary from now on is almost sudden-death overtime. He simply cannot lose. And the games are getting tougher, because he can no longer count on mischievous Democrat voters to cross over and give him Republican victories. Good for him the first test of Republican-only contests came in his home state. So Mr. McCain deftly changed hats from moderate maverick to conservative stalwart. Local pundits watched with amusement. "The way he tries to pull it off is to talk about his voting record to the conservatives while speaking moderate tones to everyone else," said Grant Woods, a former McCain aide turned talk-show host. "It seems to be working," Mr. Woods told local reporters. As Arizona's senior senator, Mr. McCain enjoyed an 86 percent ranking from the American Conservative Union. The ranking rapidly dipped to 68 percent during his presidential campaign, irritating local conservative politicians. "Here's a guy who I thought growing up was principled, had integrity, who means what he says, but then over the last four years-who knows where that John McCain is," said Republican State Senator Scott Bundgaard. He and Arizona Gov. Jane Hull endorsed George W. Bush. Radio ads promoting Mr. McCain as a "pro-life Reagan conservative" aired in Arizona just days after he accused Mr. Bush of pandering to South Carolina's religious right. Meanwhile, the National Right to Life Committee and the Christian Coalition were pumping out press releases quoting inflammatory statements against pro-lifers made by Mr. McCain and a top McCain aide-and all the while the local right-to-life affiliate meekly defended the hometown hero. "I think he is really pro-life," said Arizona Right to Life's Barbara Harris, who cited Mr. McCain's pro-life votes in Congress and a personal letter from Mr. McCain stating, "I share your goal of ending the practice of abortion." Mr. McCain's rightward lurch did not frighten his moderate supporters. At Mr. McCain's Phoenix headquarters the Saturday before the vote, a lawyer stood beneath McCain fighter-pilot photos and told WORLD she was glad "he hasn't expressed any extreme, radical right wing, religious-right views." Last Tuesday night, the McCain strategy paid off. Last summer, state polls gave Mr. Bush a 16-point lead over Mr. McCain, prompting journalistic references to the "Arizona Problem." Even after New Hampshire, Bush supporters remained confident of keeping it close in the Grand Canyon State. But Mr. McCain managed a 60 percent to 36 percent win on election night. (Historically, this is actually a small victory margin for a favorite-son candidate.) Brothers Owen and Harold Hubbard, both in their early 70s, seemed to capture the mood of Arizonians. The two wore cowboy hats and checkered shirts to a Bush rally one week before the primary. "We came here to see what we could learn about George W. Bush," said Harold. "We haven't learned much," he added gruffly. With hands shoved in pockets and elbows flayed out, the Hubbard brothers offered caustic opinions for anyone who cared to listen. "George W. represents only the rich people," said Owen. "If we get George W. Bush we will have the same thing-pork," agreed Harold. "But with McCain, there's going to be change," announced a confident Owen. At least a change in political strategy.

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