An Aspen revival for John McCain
ASPEN ” Today, John McCain is the Republican party’s presumptive nominee for the November presidential election, a far cry from when he visited Aspen in August.
That month, when the Arizona senator came to town at the invitation of the nonpartisan Aspen Institute, it was the bleakest period for his campaign. He was running on fumes, his staff was in turmoil and polls showed he was forgotten by voters.
Nevertheless, McCain confidently told a couple of hundred people at the institute’s campus that he would perform well once the race cranked up.
“I know we’re going to be fine,” McCain said in Aspen. “In September and October, we’re going to have this great debate on Iraq [in the U.S. Senate], and people are also going to start paying attention to the race.”
Aspen Institute President and CEO Walter Isaacson believes the turning point in McCain’s campaign coincided with his trip to Aspen. McCain shifted focus back on the straight talk that’s become the theme of his campaign, Isaacson noted.
“I think it helped him to go through that retrenchment,” said Isaacson, who stressed that his analysis shouldn’t be taken as an endorsement.
McCain was accompanied in Aspen by Mark McKinnon, who TIME Magazine recently labeled a “political advertising genius.” They shot an ad in Aspen with the mountains in the background and McCain laying out positions in a straightforward way, Isaacson said.
He said he believes McCain was believed it when he claimed in Aspen that his campaign would do all right. Isaacson said he and other observers in Aspen at the time of the candidate’s presentation felt McCain was the strongest candidate. But he doubts that even McCain himself saw the race for the Republican nomination unfolding the way it did.
McCain regained front-runner status by following a campaign strategy that mirrored his presentation in Aspen. “I think the senator was firm in his convictions” on issue like Iraq and federal government spending and immigration, Isaacson said. McCain also decided to go with his “straight talk” even if it cost him some votes.
“He came across as the most authentic candidate, one who was talking straight,” said Isaacson.
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