Back in the Great Political UnknownNovember 11th, 2008 by Steven Gardner
This photo by AP Photographer Elaine Thompson was taken at a time when the only sure bet in the presidential race was that Republican John McCain had his party’s nomination wrapped up. We, a group of Seattle-area reporters, traveled with the presumptive nominee on a smaller, local version of the Straight Talk Express from Boeing Field to a hotel downtown. It was in February, a day before the Washington caucuses.
The candidate was vigorous, confident and pleasant, except for when he’d had enough of the photography. He told Thompson that there does come a point when there have been enough shots taken. McCain later in the campaign made that same case about other shots taken, especially those at his running mate, but there wasn’t a whisper of that drama here.
That evening he told a group of a few hundred that the challenge ahead was big, but he thought he might even be able to win Washington on his path to the presidency. Now, those of us writing history’s first draft and the academics working on the second can dissect what happened between this rainy night in February and the day that was historic even to the likes of Elisabeth Hasselbeck.
One of my college professors was the first to call it to my attention that we often view the history we inherited as inevitable. It takes a picture, such as this one, to poke holes in those things we take as given. Michael Dukakis, George McGovern and Thomas Dewey all had shots at something they ultimately didn’t get. But at times before the final judgment, they had their own reasons to be optimistic. No verdict had come in.