McCain Campaign Responds to the Obama/Clinton Unity Event. Kind Of

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When a presidential campaign wants to counter a big media push from its opponent, it tends to trot out surrogates with relevant experience or connections. When John McCain toured the everglades, for example, the Obama campaign put Florida’s Democratic senator, Bill Nelson, on a conference call with reporters. The national press cared little that Nelson was the particular person voicing the Obama campaign’s talking points. But the local papers were sure to give Nelson’s anti-McCain arguments a more prominent place in their stories about McCain’s visit because of Nelson’s importance.

So it was real head-scratcher when, after Senators Clinton and Obama spoke Friday afternoon in Unity, New Hampshire, the McCain campaign held a conference call with former Acting Governor of Massachusetts Jane Swift.

New Hampshire has two Republican Senators, Judd Gregg and John Sununu. Either one could have devoted twenty minutes to a call. After all, a talented politician could have done this call in his or her sleep — Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton may have hosted a “unity” event in New Hampshire today, but it is John McCain who has a real history of working across party lines to deliver real results for Americans. Any questions?

It is particularly confusing because Jane Swift was wildly unpopular as governor. She was elected Lieutenant Governor in 1998 and took over the top spot when the Governor was made an ambassador in 2001. Swift basically spent two years alienating people and making ill-advised decisions. She used a State Police helicopter to fly home to Western Massachusetts. She asked staffers to take vacation days to help her move. She had staffers spend unpaid time babysitting her kids and running errands for her. At a certain point, college newspapers were calling for her to resign. When Mitt Romney returned to Massachusetts with national ambitions, the Republican Party cleared Swift out and gave Romney the chance to win the governor’s seat, which he did.

Swift only spoke a few minutes on Friday’s call. She said what was expected. “I guess in looking at the event in appropriately named Unity today, it made me wish that Senator Obama had actually worked as hard to bridge the partisan divide in Washington DC, during his short time there, as he is working hard apparently to bridge the divide in his own party with Hillary Clinton voters.” The source of her knowledge of the Senate went unexplained. She added, “I think that it is really important to have someone elected who’s words mean something.”

That was followed by two half-hearted questions from reporters about whether McCain had done anything to encourage others in his party to be embrace bipartisanship. McCain has worked across party lines, the reporters pointed out, but George W. Bush and McCain’s fellow Republicans in Congress have fostered deep divides. When has McCain shown leadership on the issue of unity?

Swift pointed out that McCain has worked across the aisle on immigration and other issues, and at times will encourage his fellow Republicans to do the same. He led by example, essentially. Eventually a staffer chimed in to help. Together, the staffer and Swift added that McCain hosts events in which he takes questions from Democrats and independents. The relevance of the comment to the question was tangential, at best.

After two questions, the staffer, sounding vexed, said, “It seems we are out of questions” and hung up.

McCain 2008. Catch the fever.

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