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Capitol Chatter: McCain waged different campaigns

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Sen. John McCain tells a Minnesota audience Friday, Oct. 10, 2008, that they should respect his presidential race opponent, Barack Obama. Many people told McCain to attack Obama. Don Davis / Forum News Service file photo2 / 2

ST. PAUL — U.S. Sen. John McCain's death brings to mind several encounters with the senator that showed how rare the senator was.

A couple of my most memorable dealings with him came in 2008, when McCain faced Barack Obama in the presidential race.

Many Americans will recall one that has come up time and time again in recent days.

From Lakeville, Minn., I wrote, "John McCain's Minnesota supporters gave him a loud and clear message Friday: Take a harder line against presidential opponent Barack Obama."

Many of the 21 Republicans who asked questions of their presidential candidate told him to battle Democrat Obama.

"We want you to fight," a Navy and Army veteran told McCain.

"I got the message," the Republican presidential candidate responded, but still called on supporters to respect Obama.

It was Gayle Quinnell of Shakopee, Minn., whose comments made the news and even Saturday Night Live when she declared: "I don't trust Barack Obama because he's an Arab."

McCain grabbed the microphone from the then-75-year-old woman's hands and chastised her.

"He is a decent person and he is someone you don't have to be scared of as president of the United States," McCain said to a chorus of boos.

It is hard to imagine a presidential candidate today telling a supporter to lay off criticism of the opponent.

If the Lakeville forum was among his most visible appearances, my first encounter with him was more subtle

While a North Dakota political reporter in the 1990s, I took regular trips to Washington, D.C. On one, I was covering Senate debate on some measure important to the upper Midwest when McCain and then-Sen. Bob Dole plopped down on a sofa in the middle of the Senate press gallery and began talking to us; not spitting out talking points that we usually hear today, but rather just talking like civilians would about the real issues of the debate.

It is hard to imagine such an informal conversation happening like that today.

Back to the 2008 campaign. McCain rode from appearance to appearance in a bus designed with room where he could talk to reporters. That seldom happened back then, let alone a decade later.

He talked to a handful of reporters when I hitched a ride. McCain was not a fan of government supporting corn-based ethanol, so as we were passing a corn field between Oakdale, Minn., and Hudson, Wis., I pointed outside the window to the corn and asked about ethanol.

His response was quiet and presented so a corn farmer could understand why he came to the conclusion, even if the farmer did not agree. It was quite unlike today's likely answer from a GOP candidate that "government has no businesses propping up farmers." Same philosophy, but different presentations.

Then there was the 2008 Republican National Convention in downtown St. Paul. When other politicians would have emptied the arena before he took the stage to practice his speech, reporters and photographers were free to get close and hear McCain's practice, and the discussion he had with aides about what needed to be changed.

Like his policies or not, most politicians respected McCain as a person. As for reporters, the access we had to him seldom happens any more.

DFL mailers 'false'

Minnesota voters decided in 2016 to establish a commission that does not answer to the Legislature to set legislative pay.

The commission did just that, boosting long-static legislative pay from $31,400 a year to $45,000. No legislative vote was needed under the voter-approved constitutional amendment.

So now Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party House caucus fliers are arriving in the mail saying Republicans "voted to give legislators a 45% pay raise."

Not true, media watchdogs say. No legislators voted for a pay raise, just like the constitutional amendment intended. Removing lawmakers from the salary question was the whole reason for the amendment, largely supported by Democratic lawmakers.

The fliers are being mailed into Republican-held districts Democrats think they can win in November.

Candidate uses n-word

Minnesota House candidate Kyle Green, who lists himself on official paperwork as "independent-judicial reform," shook things up in his west-central Minnesota race.

Green ends a 33-second campaign video with: "I want to be your state representative. I want to be your public servant. And I want to be your n -----."

The candidate says he is American Indian, African-American and white.

Green is trying to unseat veteran lawmaker Dean Urdahl. Green and Urdahl both live near Grove City.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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