Barack Obama would like to offer John McCain a job if he becomes president, in what his allies says is an attempt to end the bitter partisan rancour that engulfed the White House race last week.
Telegraph | Oct 12, 2008
By Tim Shipman in Chillicothe, Ohio
America might not know who is new president, Barack Obama or John McCain, until 10 days after voting
Both presidential rivals are working behind the scenes to calm the increasingly incendiary atmosphere on the campaign trail, which erupted with lurid claims about Mr Obama’s links with the former terrorist Bill Ayres and a lynch mob atmosphere at McCain rallies.
Two Democratic sources with knowledge of the thinking in the Obama camp say that forming a partnership with Mr McCain would prove that Mr Obama will reach across the aisle and also help rehabilitate Mr McCain, who many Democrats believe has been pushed by hardline advisers into making increasingly desperate attacks on his rival.
By his own admission, the Republican candidate “took the gloves off” last week , unleashing adverts and soundbites attacking Mr Obama’s character and judgment as polls showed him on course for a landslide election victory.
One well-connected Democrat, who spoke to Mr Obama last week, told The Sunday Telegraph: “John McCain is a good man. There’s no question about it. I think we’ll see Barack Obama reach out to him and say: let’s work together.”
He pointed out that Bill Clinton and the first President Bush “work together on common issues” despite their testy exchanges “in the heat of battle”.
And a Democratic strategist who talks regularly with Mr Obama’s senior advisors added: “Obama has said all along that he will work with the best people, regardless of party affiliation. John McCain has experience and he used to have a record of bipartisanship. We’re all going to need to pull together when this is over.”
Mr McCain will not be offered a cabinet job, but Mr Obama may ask him to spearhead a bipartisan overhaul of veteran’s affairs, an issue close to Mr McCain’s heart.
The claims that Mr Obama is already planning his administration come as a friend of Mr McCain revealed that the Republican candidate is concerned that the ugly rhetoric of the last week will damage his reputation as an honest patriot if he loses on November 4.
The Republican strategist, who used to work for Mr McCain, said: “John knows that his reputation as a decent man is on the line but he’s got devils on each shoulder telling him to hit harder.”
That sentiment appeared to be behind Mr McCain’s decision on Friday night to dial back the rhetoric, telling the crowd at one rally that they should be more “respectful” of Mr Obama and insisting that his Democratic rival is “a decent family man”. He dismissed one woman’s claim that Mr Obama is “an Arab” and added: “He’s a person that you don’t have to be scared of as President of the United States.” The booing that accompanied these gestures of conciliation is a measure of the rage which has gripped many Republican voters now that polls suggest an Obama presidency is likely.
With the Republicans slamming his character, this was a week Mr Obama had to survive intact if he is to ride voter angst at the Republican stewardship of the economy all the way to the White House.
The pressure cooker he chose as a stage was Ohio, the bellwether which decided the election for George W. Bush four years ago by just 110,000 votes. Mr Obama, who has edged into a lead in the Buckeye state held five rallies there on Thursday and Friday and Mr McCain sent his running mate Sarah Palin to campaign for him.
In conversations with voters in Cincinnati, Wilmington and Chillicothe, a town of 22,000 in southern Ohio seen as the ultimate swing town of the ultimate swing state, The Sunday Telegraph found a febrile atmosphere, where fear at state of the economy combined with fury among Republicans at Mr Obama’s lead and anxiety among Democrats that the assault on his character and judgment would cause it to evaporate.
At a rally in Wilmington on Thursday night members of the crowd yelled “terrorist” and “liar” as Sarah Palin questioned Mr Obama’s account of his time working on an education project in the mid 1990s with Mr Ayres, whose Weather Underground group bombed the Pentagon in the early 1970s.
One of those shouting was housewife Courtney Jenkins, 33, a mother of four, who revealed afterwards that she considers the Ayers affair “the biggest don’t ask, don’t tell scandal that the world has ever seen”.
She said: “There is a lack of education about his past. Obama’s not good for America.
He has told lies and he has no experience. I truly think it would be a travesty if he won.
“If he’s in charge, I’ll be concerned about where our tax dollars are going. He could send it to terrorists for all we know. It truly would be frightening. He’s pro-communist and pro-socialism. It’s not the kind of society I want my kids to grow up in.” The tone of Mr Obama’s events was much more laid back but there was still a sense of tense expectation among his supporters, many of whom still cannot quite believe that he stands on the cusp of making history.
There is fear among Democrats that the imminent prospect of an Obama presidency has unleashed the primal motives of racism, prevalent in the Appalachian region of Southern Ohio.
A black volunteer at a rally in Cincinnati, who asked not to be named, confided: “They say they will vote for him but in the end I wonder whether they will go into that voting booth and say: ‘No’.” Mr Obama was introduced in Chillicothe and Cincinnati by Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, himself a product of Appalachia, who went out of his way to answer local suspicions about Mr Obama’s faith and stance on gun rights, stressing that the Democratic candidate is “a strong Christian family man” and telling sportsmen they “have nothing to fear” from him. The candidate himself, basking in the sunshine, pointedly praised “this beautiful day that the Lord has made”.
Others are more confident. Democratic campaigners in Chillicothe and Wilmington report that even voters who have called Mr Obama a “nigger” on the doorstep have said they will vote for him because they blame Republicans for the economic crisis.
Harold Beach, 44, a carpenter and union member from Chillicothe, said: “There’s always going to be that [racism] but I think people have changed a little bit. It’s a different world than what it used to be.
“There are some people that never change but I think he’ll do good here. I think people are tired of the economy we’ve got right now.
Eight years is enough.” Joe Sulzer, the Democratic Mayor of Chillicothe, believes the economic crisis has shifted thousands of votes to Mr Obama in the last fortnight. “This town voted for George Bush by three per cent last time. He carried it by the same percentage as the entire state. We’re the bellwether. I expect him to stretch his lead.
“We’ve had factories close where the jobs were shipped to China.
When this election started out most people here didn’t know Barack Obama. Most were sceptical. They didn’t think he had enough experience. But they have got to know him. On the economy John McCain sounds like George Bush and Obama sounds like a breath of fresh air.”
There is evidence aplenty that the economy is working for Mr Obama. In Cincinnati, Raquel Houseman, who lost her job when a Ford car plant closed, said she was for Mr Obama, who grew up with a single mother, since “he doesn’t need advisers to tell him about our struggles because he has lived them”. She said: “We have found ourselves relying more and more on credit cards for day to day living, which really scares me.”
In Chillicothe, Matt Kendall, 31, who recently lost his job, said: “We grew up in an America where hard work was rewarded with financial freedom, but we’re losing sight of that. We need a leader who understands the tough times for working people.” Not everyone is convinced Mr Obama is the answer, but for some no politician is the answer. Paul Gilmer, a 41 year old veteran, who attended the Chillicothe rally in a T-shirt bearing a picture of Sitting Bull and the logo, “You can trust the government, just ask an Indian”, expressed the views of many, weary of politics as usual.
“I haven’t voted since I was young because of the bickering between the two parties. I like John McCain because he might take on the people in Washington, but I probably won’t vote.”
Mr Obama devoted the bulk of his speeches to the economy, but he also found time to criticise Mr McCain’s aggressive campaigning. “It’s easy to rile up a crowd by stoking anger and division,” he told 3,000 people in Chillicothe. “But that’s not what we need right now in the United States.
The American people aren’t looking for someone who can divide this country – they’re looking for someone who will lead it.
“They can run misleading ads, they can pursue the politics of anything goes. It will not work. Not this time.” Republican sources say that this attitude, conveying the expectation of victory, has infuriated Mr McCain, who believes that Mr Obama is presumptuous and has not shown him enough respect for his decade of military service and his three decades of bipartisan work in Washington.
The McCain friend said: “John is infuriated by him, just like Bill Clinton was during the primaries. They both think Obama never gives them credit for the difficult decisions they made. He is so consumed by now that he doesn’t give credit for things in the past. It’s very annoying.”
But as Mr Obama rode out the attacks last week, and the polls failed to budge, Mr McCain discovered that the forces of Republican frustration he unleashed by letting that irritation show could have consequences that effect his own public image as well as Mr Obama’s.
If the Republican candidate does succeed in closing the lid on Pandora’s Box, he might be rewarded with more than just respect if Mr Obama becomes president.