And then he can give Florida Governor Charlie Crist a lifetime, unlimited mileage pass on the Straight Talk Express, or maybe even a copy of that prized donor list that he had to use as collateral last year to keep his campaign afloat.
It's strange how quickly Crist's last minute endorsement has faded into history. Perhaps it was the exit polling--only 42 percent of Republicans said that Crist's endorsement had been important to them, and only 54 percent of those had wound up voting for McCain--that gave rise to the conventional wisdom that, Sure, Crist helped John McCain win Florida. Somewhat. To an extent. Didn't hurt.
The problem with that analysis, though, is that it's entirely incorrect.
If John McCain accepts the Republican nomination, it will be
the direct result of the
The proof is in the pre-election polling.
For months, McCain's
Yet his three-point victory in
The conservative talk show hosts pounding him each day
certainly didn't help his numbers, but a more important factor was probably his
ground game. McCain didn't have one. A single week is not enough time to
organize a state that spans two time zones and holds 18 million people. The
Making the situation even worse going into the weekend was that, with the Thursday night debate already over, there was nothing likely to happen before the primary that could spike McCain's declining poll numbers.
Until Charlie Crist showed up at the Carillon Park Hilton Saturday evening.
A high school and college quarterback, Crist understood the value of not telegraphing your plays. When he arrived at the Pinellas County Lincoln Day Dinner, perhaps a handful of people knew what he was about to do. John McCain was not one of them.
A few days earlier, I asked McCain if he'd happened to talk to Crist yet that day. He glanced at his watch and quipped: "I usually call him hourly."
As it turns out, he was only half-joking. The morning after
Crist, for many weeks, had operated under the assumption that he wouldn't endorse at all. What was the benefit? Political endorsements rarely make a difference in the outcome, and are usually about minor-leaguers hoping to bank a chit.
Still, over the previous few months, Crist had politely listened to all the candidates who asked. Last autumn, Giuliani rearranged his campaign schedule to clear time for a face-to-face. Romney, after making his own pitch for an endorsement, immediately followed up by asking that if he couldn't endorse him, would he please not endorse anyone at all. He then laid out for Crist why that was the most rational course.
All that final week, it looked as if Crist had taken the advice to heart. But as the tracking polls showed Romney pulling even with and then overtaking McCain, Crist decided to jump in publicly. His personal favorite candidate, the one who had gone out of his way to endorse him in his gubernatorial run in 2006, was going to lose--and he had the ability to do something about it. By this time, of course, the political consultants loyal to Crist were advising him to stay out, according to state GOP insiders. The gap was too big, they argued. You'll only look foolish.
Crist shrugged them off. "How would I have felt Wednesday morning if I hadn't done anything and he'd lost? I felt it was almost my duty," Crist told me last weekend. "I felt like maybe he needed a lift."
That's exactly what McCain got when he opened his hotel room door to let in his unexpected guest. McCain, knowing full well the polling trends, was at a loss for words when Crist told him what he would do in his introduction 10 minutes later, according to people close to both.
As it happened, though, Crist gave McCain more than a little pick-me-up. He also turned over the keys to his political machine, which was already warmed up and humming along. Since December, Crist had been going all out to pass Amendment 1, which increased a property tax break for homeowners and was also on the ballot that Tuesday. It had been one of his campaign promises, and it evolved into a referendum on his leadership. Now, his machine had a second objective.
Before he'd even gone up the elevator, he'd told his "Yes on 1" staff to "shake the trees" and round up as much media as possible. Within minutes, every cable news network had been called and urged to cover Crist's remarks live. Within hours, every Charlie Crist for Governor county chair also got a call: The governor supports McCain. The governor is asking you to support him, too. Those calls led to others, which led to others, and so on. By Monday, Bill Bunting, the Pasco County GOP chair and keeper of a coveted gun show e-mail list, circulated his endorsement, as did the Police Benevolent Association.
Crist, meanwhile, set out to deliver his home base of
Analysts looking back have theorized that Crist's endorsement pushed turnout far beyond anyone's predictions, and that these additional unlikely voters were far more disposed toward McCain than the traditional, conservative "super-voters," who come out for every primary. That's hard to quantify.
What's easier to see is the disappearance of the 11-point
margin (according to Crist's internal tracking poll) that Romney had opened up by
"Who the next
president of the
Sure it would. Perhaps even more so if your own digs were
across the street in the
It's premature to talk about potential vice presidents now,
but not unreasonable, given the circumstances. Crist has now proven he can
Crist has been asked about his potential vice presidency
dozens of times in recent months. I asked again this weekend, and Crist was
smoothly evasive. He is flattered, he says, but is concentrating on being
In fact, the word has gone out across Crist's domain that VP
talk is verboten. Not only is it unseemly, it's not helpful in
the bigger picture. But there are slip-ups. When I asked a top Florida
Republican what Crist could offer McCain's campaign in, say,
S.V. Dáte has covered
By S.V. Dáte