Remembering my Journeys with Senator John McCain -- Sunday Political Brunch September 2, 2018


FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – I’m on the road this week keeping an eye on key primary elections in Florida, Arizona and Oklahoma. But like many I am mourning the death, and honoring the life of a genuine American hero, Senator John McCain (R) Arizona. McCain and I had an interesting work relationship and our paths crossed many times over the span of 20-plus years across the nation. Let’s “brunch” on that this week

“How We Met” – In my 2009 book, “Age of Obama: A Reporter’s Journey with Clinton, McCain and Obama in the Making of the President 2008” (Nimble Books, LLC), I recount how Sen. McCain and I met:

I have to share a very funny story about the very first time I met John McCain. It was 1993, and I was a legislative aide, working in the U.S. Senate. Many people probably don’t know this, but there is a small subway system which runs under the U.S. Capitol complex. It makes stops at six Congressional office buildings. Senate and House members – along with their staffs – use the subway to get to and from the Capitol for votes and other urgent business. There is one protocol, though: If you are a staffer who is seated, and the train stops for a Member of Congress, you must stand up and offer your seat. I was sitting with Jim Borland, a friend from our days as Congressional Fellows, and up walked Senator John McCain of Arizona, whom I greatly admired but had never met.

Nervously we stood up, and I said, “Senator McCain, please have a seat.”

“No, no guys, that’s not necessary,” McCain said. “I don’t mind standing.”

Then just as I sat down, McCain sat down, right on my lap! He swung his legs up and placed them across Jim’s lap. He put his arm around my shoulders and looked us dead in the eyes and said, “So, gentleman. How are things going today?”

I honestly don’t recall what we told him. Probably just small talk. It was bizarre and funny at the same time. I wanted to burst out laughing but I didn’t dare. Fortunately, it was a quick ride to the Russell Senate Office Building. McCain stood up, smiling, shook our hands and left. Jim and I were in stitches, but I suspect McCain was laughing harder at our embarrassed reaction to his practical joke. I said, “You know if McCain ever becomes President of the United States, I am going to have one hell of a story to tell!”

“What an Amazing Memory” – I engaged with Senator McCain many times in Washington, D.C., when I left my job in the Senate and returned to the press corps in 1993 at the Cox Media Bureau. While we did not own a TV station in Phoenix, Cox was the major cable TV provider in Arizona, so our dealings were frequent. Plus, he was becoming a national political figure, so all our stations were hearing from him often. But by early 1999, I transferred to then-Cox-owned KTVU-TV 2 in the San Francisco Bay Area. In the spring of 2000, McCain came to KTVU for a live interview with me on his book, “Faith of My Fathers.” When I walked into the green room the first thing he said to me was, “Oh my God, what are you doing here? I haven’t seen you in Washington in forever. I’ve missed you!” I was floored. How on Earth did he remember me, through all the people he meets with and deals with daily? I thought, “What an amazing memory he has!”

“Iowa 2008” – On the eve of the 2008 Iowa Caucuses the press, public, and McCain staffers and surrogates were packed in a cramped, small-room campaign event. The candidate was over an hour late, so we all just chatted politics, and whether he really had any chance of winning. Again, a passage from my book, “Age of Obama…”:

Finally, after an hour’s delay McCain arrived with Senators Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, and Sam Brownback, of Kansas, in tow. McCain stood on stage-right, next to me, and we said hello. As a reporter in DC and San Francisco, I’ve known McCain for almost 15 years. He always seems to remember me. His face lit up, and I appreciated his warm greeting… After McCain shook my hand in Iowa fifteen years later he turned to face the crowd. We were packed so closely together that, as he talked, he kept jostling my notebook with his right elbow, causing my pen to scrawl wildly over the page. I was thinking I might have a memento for the Smithsonian should McCain actually become president, but then I realized any kindergartener could have made those scrawls all over my notebook.

“The Balance of the Campaign” – McCain finished a distant-fourth in Iowa, and his campaign was out of money. Yet, just a few days later I stood near him in a hotel ballroom in New Hampshire, as he won a stunning, come-from-behind upset in the New Hampshire primary. He and Mike Huckabee fought it out for weeks, but on March 4th, I was at the Dallas hotel with my daughter Allie, when McCain went over the top with enough delegates to win the Republican nomination for president. It was quite a night! I covered him again in California and elsewhere, all the way to the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, MN, with him ultimately losing in November to Barack Obama. It was quite a ride!

“Rest in Peace….” -- God bless the heroism, honor, protection, friendship and inspiration shared for decades by Senator John McCain, with the world, and a grateful nation.

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia. He’s covered that last ten presidential campaigns beginning with the Carter-Reagan race in 1980.

© 2018, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo Courtesy: Mark Curtis Media

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