McCain defends Iowa’s first-in-the-nation Caucuses

Republican presidential candidate/Arizona Senator John McCain stood in front of a farm home near Gladbrook, Iowa, late this afternoon, facing a crowd of about three dozen Iowans and a field of nearly-mature corn across the gravel road. After telling a couple of jokes about his aged but spunky mother (who recently revealed she had been pulled over for speeding in Arizona — clocked going 112 miles per hour), McCain launched into a defense of Iowa’s first-in-the-nation Caucuses.  (Yes, this was/is guy who skipped the Caucuses in 2000.)

"I can’t do anything about it, but I’m disturbed at this crowding of primaries up earlier and earlier.  it’s not right.  It doesn’t give the people a chance to examine the candidates and it really is not fair to accelerate this process to such an early stage," McCain began.

"I think what we had for years and years and years and years was the Iowa Caucuses, the New Hampshire Primaries, the South Carolina primary was the best way to go because money doesn’t matter that much.  What matters is the way you get to know the candidates and now we have this process incredibly compressed to the point where we are going to decide at the end of January or early February our candidates for the two parties and we don’t have our conventions until September.

"I read somewhere that Bobby Kennedy announced that he was running for president in the ’68 elecitons in March of ’68.  David Yepsen, the fountain of knowledge here, will be able to tell you whether or not that’s right or not.  I believe that Dwight David Eisenhower announced in June of 1952 for the ’52 election, so what I’m saying is there’s nothing I can do about it, but I think we ought to urge our party leaders and maybe our congressional leaders to get this system back in some kind of shape. 

"By the way, I would remind you again, back in the ’80s in a Democratic primary, Gary Hart beat Mondale in the early primaries, but because they went through a long series of primaries Mondale was able to out-campaign him and then get the nomination of the Democrat Party so I just want to tell you my commitment to make sure that this is an orderly process and we preserve the Iowa Caucuses because it’s just part of American political tradition that we should not destroy by crowding this thing up into early January, I guess is what it’s beginning to look like now."   

McCain later answered a few reporters’ questions.  The first:  will the crowding of these contests impact McCain’s campaign schedule?

"It doesn’t. I just think it’s wrong to crowd it up like that.  I don’t think that it gives people enough of an opportunity to examine the candidates," McCain says.  "When (1976 Democratic presidential candidates) Mo Udall and Jimmy Carter were the two finalists they campaigned, I think, for 13 weeks…now, Mo came in second in every one of ’em, but still.  People just aren’t having an opportunity to examine the candidates and if Iowa has to push (the Caucuses) up, what happens to the Christmas season?"

McCain held out the idea congressional action might be necessary.  "But I would hope that the parties would realize that the situation is a complete disaster in many respects," McCain told reporters.

A number of leading Democrats have signed a pledge saying they’ll only campaign in leading states like Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada and will NOT campaign in states like Florida and Michigan which are trying to move up the dates of their primaries.

McCain said he’d sign such a pledge (although his GOP isn’t circulating one; it’s just the Democrats in the four states who are).

"In 2000, as you know, Delaware wanted to move up with New Hampshire and I promised not even to raise the shades on Amtrak when I went through Delaware," McCain said.  As you may recall, McCain ran for president in 2000 — but skipped competing in Iowa’s 2000 Caucuses.

Is there a Republican example of a modern-day show-down in which a GOP nominee was chosen over an extended period — something which likely wouldn’t happen in today’s atmosphere?

"Reagan and Ford in ’76.  Ford won the first few and then Reagan won North Carolina and it made it a heck of a race and if this was the same scenario now, Ford would have won the early ones and it was over," McCain offered. 

So is the main concern the health/viability of the candidate who is chosen in this process or is it the voice of voters?

"The voice of voters and if you crowd it all up like that, the only thing that’s ever going to happen is whoever has the most money to buy media after that, but the whole thing is wrong.  The process is wrong…only political junkies enjoy this, but suppose Michael Bloomberg decides after the nominee is chosen in the first week of February that he wants to get in.  That could be very interesting, especially if he injected about a billion dollars into his campaign," McCain said.

Is (Bloomberg) a Ross Perot, because that’s what Perot did in ’92, he got in in July.

"I don’t know, but I would remind you that there was a point at which Perot was polling very well, but then he had a set-back," McCain concluded. 

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About O.Kay Henderson

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