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

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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

A Week of Political Ups and Downs -- Sunday Political Brunch August 26, 2108

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Once again President Trump was back in West Virginia this week, the state in which he is the most popular with a 62 percent approval rating. That’s six visits since taking office. Many people here love him, but he got two doses of bad news upon Air Force One’s touchdown. It’s a mixed bag for Mr. Trump. Let’s “brunch” on that this week.

“The Manafort Factor” – The conviction of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort on Tuesday is a toss-up. Yes, Manafort was convicted on eight counts including bank fraud, but none of it had anything to do with the 2016 presidential campaign. It all had to do with Manafort’s business relationships with Russian and allied entities. Whether you like the president or not, there is still no proof of collusion. That’s not opinion, it’s fact. If there is a contrary viewpoint, please connect the dots. For now, Manafort’s misdeeds happened well before he was campaign chair.

“Cohen Goin’” – On the other hand, the guilty plea by former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen Tuesday may prove a lot more problematic for the White House. Did he pay hush money to two women claiming affairs with then candidate-Trump? (Apparently someone did) Does it matter if it happened before he took office? (Yes) And does it matter if campaign versus personal funds were used? (Yes). Again, if there’s real smoke and fire here, prosecutors need to lay out the road map ahead.

“Morrisey or Bust” – The main reason for President Trump coming to West Virginia was to campaign for Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R-WV), who is the nominee for U.S. Senate to face incumbent Senator Joe Manchin, (D-WV). While the President spoke for about 75 minutes total, only about 10 to 15 minutes was devoted to Morrisey and the senate race. Will that hurt? Said Trump of Morrisey, "A tremendous gentleman, I got to know him during the campaign.... He doesn't stop. He's going to fight for you like no one has ever fought for West Virginia." Morrisey responded, "When I get to the U.S. Senate I'm going to be a strong ally of President Trump." Which party controls the U.S. Senate my hinge on this race.

“Manchin” – Sen. Joe Manchin, (D-WV) is clearly the most conservative Democrat in the U.S. Senate, voting with President Trump 60 percent of the time. He, in fact, came out in support of President Trump’s newly announced Affordable Clean Energy Plan which was unveiled at the rally. Manchin also voted for Justice Neil Gorsuch on the U.S Supreme Court. But Manchin has reservations about the future of Obama Care, worrying that Attorney General Morrisey will lead to its demise. "He basically has sued the federal government to take away insurance for 800,000 West Virginians who have pre-existing conditions. The suit he has entered will do that. It destroys basically the Affordable Care Act which we have," said Sen. Joe Manchin, (D) West Virginia.

“Duncan Hunter – Chris Collins” – Republicans have some increased worries this week. Rep. Duncan Hunter, Jr., (R-CA) and his wife were indicted on accusations of using campaign contributions for personal use – a big no-no. Last week it was Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) indicted on charges related to insider trading and his son. Both Congressman may have to abdicate, so the party can try to save the seats. On the plus side for the GOP, these are two of the most reliably red districts in two of the nation’s bluest states. On the other hand, Democrats are trying to sow the seeds of discontent and there is some real “red” meat here, pardon the pun. Can they flip?

“Trump v Sessions” – Boy this one is getting ugly, with President Trump continuing to do battle with his Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The President is still angry Sessions recused himself from the Russian meddling investigation saying, “I put in an attorney general that never took control of the Justice Department. Jeff Sessions never took control of the Justice Department.” That prompted Sessions to fire back with this statement, “While I am Attorney General, the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations. I demand the highest standards, and where they are not met, I take action.” Ouch!

“My Perspective” – I know Jeff Sessions from covering him when he was U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama in the 1980s when I was a reporter in the Mobile-Pensacola TV market. He’s tough, and he gives no ground. I think he’s safe. As we learned from Richard Nixon, firing an Attorney General can backfire. Janet Reno really got under the skin of President Bill Clinton, but she didn’t dare be dismissed. The same goes for Trump. Canning Sessions and others would be another Saturday Night Massacre, and that would not bode well for Trump, just as it blew up on Nixon.

What are your thoughts on this week’s developments? Just click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

Mark Curtis Ed.D., is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia and surrounding states.

©2018, Mark Curtis Media, LLC

Photo courtesy: Mark Curtis Media

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