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Back in the Great Political Unknown

November 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.

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3 Responses to “Back in the Great Political Unknown”

  1. Builder Says:

    Timing is the essential ingredient/variable of politics. The vast majority of the presidential runner-ups are electable candidates who could have prevailed if only their political journeys had peaked during different cycles.

    A young McGovern and Dukakis, catapulted in time, could have defeated Nixon and Bush the Elder in 2008. Likewise, today’s John McCain could have prevailed in 1980, 1984, or 1988 against Obama.

    Thanks for sharing your photo with McCain. I had the pleasure of meeting John and his wife, Cindy, when he ran for president in 2000. As you may recall, McCain defeated Bush in New Hampshire, only to fall to defeat in a tumultuous campaign in South Carolina.

    Ever wonder what the national political scene would be today if McCain had been president from 2001 to 2008 instead of Bush II? Dukakis instead of Bush I? McGovern vice Nixon?

  2. Jake Metcalf Says:

    If you folks didn’t know Steve is the dude in the red shirt on the right of the AP photo.

    I personally love George McGovern and think that the movie A Bright and Shining Moment is a very good political documentary. Also Un-Bought and Un-Bossed about Shirley Chisolm.

    Fun Fact: George McGovern’s grand daughter writes and draws a successful web comic called FartParty.org.

  3. A Photo in Time » Field of Steve Says:

    [...] I wrote about the event on my work blog, Kitsap Caucus. Go there to see my recollection of that [...]

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