McCain declares he’ll win Iowa in ’08

Arizona Senator John McCain is in Iowa.  His campaign sent an advisory, telling reporters to show up at 4:15 p.m. Sunday afternoon at McCain’s Iowa campaign headquarters to set up for a 4:30 p.m. news conference.

I arrived at 4:10 p.m.  The McCain campaign HQ is in a suite of offices used by Jim Nussle’s 2006 campaign for governor.  The office building sits in a neighborhood that’s largely residential, but there’s commercial development along a major four-lane east/west road in Des Moines.  There’s a vestibule to the office decorated with an American flag tacked to one wall.  On the opposite wall there’s a piece of "artwork" that’s in the shape of Iowa; painted red, white and blue; and decorated with McCain pictures and bumper stickers.

Reporters were held in this outer area of the office as McCain chatted inside the warren of offices with a bunch of his supporters.  The guestimate of crowd size was "several dozen."  A few bursts of applause could be heard from the interior room where McCain was speaking 

At 4:20ish, the doors opened and reporters were invited to walk through one office and into the room where McCain had talked privately with his supporters.  McCain’s private talk with his supporters is a break from his usual tradition of holding every event in the open, even fundraisers. 

As a reflection of the bare-bones campaign McCain is now running, there was no lectern on which to set microphones, so WHO-TV’s Brad Argo scrambled up a light stand onto which all the TV and radio stations affixed their microphones, with duct tape Mr. Argo supplied.  During this scramble, McCain was shaking hands and posing for pictures with his supporters in the room. 

At 4:30 p.m., the print reporters in the room said they were ready to go while the broadcasters were still scrambling to get their equipment set up.  McCain started just a minute or so later as cameraman Argo got back behind his camera.

McCain opened it up with a statement, then took a few questions.  You can listen to his remarks by clicking on the audio link at the bottom of the Radio Iowa story.

Here is a transcript (it was only 7 minutes):

McCain:  "We just met with a group of our supporters and county chairmen and chairpersons from all over the state and very encouraged by their expressions of support and going to make sure that everybody knows what we’re doing and an update on the campaign and how we intend to stay heavily involved here in Iowa and we’re confident that we’re doing fine.  Let me just say that one of other thing that I’d like to talk about very briefly and that is that last week we had this publicity stunt in the United States Senate where we stayed up all night.  It was a joke and a waste of the taxpayers’ money.  The fact is that the Democrats want to set a date for withdrawal and there will be chaos in the region and there will be genocide.  We are succeeding in Iraq, militarily.  We should be doing better, politically, but the fact is you cannot set a date for withdrawal and if we do, it will guarantee failure and it will guarantee the loss of additional brave young Americans’ lives.  I will hold that stand, no matter what, and that is the correct stand for the future of this nation.  With that, I’d like to respond to any questions."

"What did you tell you supporters here about your campaign?"

McCain:  "I told ’em everything’s great and we’re encouraged and we’re doing fine."

"How do you expect…"

McCain: "I will not, I will not respond to any more questions about process.  I did that for two weeks.  I cut down at least three forests-worth of paper being written on it.  I’ll answer to any question except that.  I am happy about the state of our campaign.  We will do fine.  We are competitive and we will win in Iowa."

"How do you expect experienced Iowa political operatives to accept that?  They know reality.

McCain:  I will not discuss it any further, Mike, as much as you would like for me to.  I have discussed it ad nauseum for the last two weeks.  I am very happy at where our campaign is and I’m very happy as to how we’re going to do and I’m very happy and I’m very confident that we win and I will not talk about it anymore.  I’ll be glad to talk about any other issue.  I’ve talked about it a lot.  I’m very grateful for the enthusiasm and support I’ve seen here today."

"Senator, I know you’ve had fundraisers in the past week…"

McCain: "I’ve just had a couple of them and they were very well attended."

"Are you changing your strategy at all?  Are you looking to tap some segments of the fundraising base that you missed out on in the first two quarters?"

McCain:  "Well, we’re more emphasis on our veterans and more emphasis on a broader base but we’ve done several fundraisers in the last few days and they’ve all been very good."

"Are you going to be a familiar face in the state now?"

McCain:  "Yea, I’ve been here a lot and I will continue to be here a lot and again, I’m very encouraged by the level of support and the enthusiasm of our people and I’m very proud to have Chuck Larson and Maryls Popma and many others who are such a great part of our team." (BACKGROUND:   Popma, a well-known organizer of Republican conservatives in Iowa, resigned from the campaign last week but is now back on board.)

"What type of schedule…coming in about once every couple of weeks…or do you intend to come in more often?"

McCain: "I think what I’d like to do is come in for two or three or four days and then leave so we can make a sweep throughout the state.  That’s the kind of calendar that we’re trying to adopt here rather than fly in for a day and fly out."

"Are you going to be here for the State Fair?"

McCain:  "You know, I was here last year where I met Waldo, an 1187 pound pig and I’d never met anyone quite like him before so I hope to get back for the fair, yes."

"When you say that the military is having success in Iraq, are you saying that you expect General Petraeus to have a positive report in September?"

McCain:  "I expect General Petraeus will have a report here in September that indicates some success and some areas that we still need progress in.  I’m hoping it will be sufficient to convince a majority of the United States Senate and members of and the American people that it is worth allowing this strategy to have a chance to succeed."

"Why the growing skepticism among other Republicans?"

McCain: "I think there’s great frustration out there, all of it very understandable because the war was terribly mismanaged for nearly four years and we are paying a very heavy price for that and we’ve made great sacrifice.  The last piece of this surge just was put into place about three weeks ago and there is success.  There’s success in an Bar province.  There are also other areas that are still very tough and will be very long and very hard and very difficult."

"What did you tell your supporters?"

McCain:  "I told ’em I’m grateful for their support."

"You talked a bit longer than that," the reporter (me) added, as the crowd giggled and McCain laughed.

McCain: "Oh, we talked about a lot of things, what our plans are and the mistakes we’ve made and things that we plan to do and mainly my chance to appreciate their support and then, look, I’ve said this not many times but I would repeat again, I’ve had a lot tougher days in my life than anytime during this campaign."

"Did they offer you advice?"

McCain:  "Yes.  One thing nice about supporters is they offer a great deal of advice and I appreciate it very much."

"To this point, do you wish you could have spent more time campaigning in Iowa compared to the other candidates?"

McCain:  "I think we’ve been here a pretty good amount.  Being in the senate, obviously like last week, does require my presence, although I haven’t been there too much, but that also goes into it, but I think we’ve pretty well evenly divided our time between the three early states and I am still convinced that the three early states will determine the nominee of both the Republican and Democratic party.  There’s no doubt in my mind about it."

"You said you’ve made mistakes.  Are there any mistakes you’re willing to admit to us?"

McCain:  "Sure.  I have done that for the past two weeks.  Okay?"

"Are you planning to get the bus out in Iowa?"

McCain:  "Sure.  We need to get the bus out and get the jerks in the media on the bus, too." (crowd laughs) "And make them part of the fare." (more laughter from the crowd)  "The cheapest people I’ve ever known in my life.  David Yepsen ranks up there as the cheapest.  Any?  Okay?  Thanks very much.  Great to see you all."

The crowd applauds.  The media exits.

A McCain campaign griller was busy grilling up hot dogs for the McCain supporters still inside as the media left the parking lot.

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.