April 15, 2008


When John McCain turned to politics, he went all-out:
His naval career relaunched, he became a popular liaison to the Senate and soon was fascinated with how levers of power worked. (Faye Fiore, 4/15/08, Los Angeles Times)

John McCain's ascension to Republican presidential nominee began 30 years ago in a cluttered office on Capitol Hill. There, Washington's most privileged senators would drop by to hear the Navy pilot hold forth in a space so cramped his chair was jammed against the wall.

It was an odd scene for status-conscious Washington: the political cognoscenti hanging out with McCain, a 41-year-old war hero who was the Navy's liaison to the Senate.

He was a glorified valet, really, assigned to arrange travel junkets and escort lawmakers overseas. But in a remarkable midlife reinvention, McCain went from senators' factotum to senator himself. He turned his final military assignment into an apprenticeship and launched an unlikely political rise that could put him in the White House.

He did more than arrange their security and make sure they got to the proper hotel. He attached himself to men of power and studied how they worked. He enthralled them with tales of his captivity in Hanoi. He delighted them with his rough humor and supplied them with bottles of airline liquor smuggled into Middle East countries where drinking was outlawed.

Soon the old bulls were maneuvering to sit next to the young captain on long flights: Republicans John G. Tower of Texas and John W. Warner of Virginia; Democrats Morris K. Udall of Arizona and Henry M. "Scoop" Jackson of Washington. The younger up-and-comers became his friends: Republican William S. Cohen of Maine stood as best man at McCain's wedding; Democrat Gary Hart of Colorado was an usher.

And when McCain decided to make his audacious bid for Congress -- with no political experience and not so much as a home state from which to run -- his mentors handed him the ingredients for a campaign that succeeded on the first try.

That five-year chapter of the future Arizona senator's life was an early example of the determination and dash that helped him survive 5 1/2 years in a prison camp, then win the nomination of a party that never much liked him. While his fiery temper and famous maverick streak made plenty of enemies, they were offset by a rakish charm that made as many friends, some who would play influential roles in his career.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 15, 2008 8:54 PM
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