Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Political Maverick Chooses The Status Quo

If a former presidential candidate makes a last minute endorsement and no one cares, did it really actually happen?

That’s kind of the question I found myself pondering after I heard that Senator John McCain endorsed former/wannabe future governor Bob Ehrlich yesterday. The Associated Press quoted McCain, who was attending a Board of Visitors meeting at the Naval Academy, as saying that Ehrlich is a “fine guy.” The Ehrlich campaign quickly followed up with a statement thanking McCain for his support.

The McCain announcement is a curious phenomenon for several reasons.

First, Bob Ehrlich and John McCain share no affection for each other. This dates back to 2000, when Ehrlich rebuffed McCain’s endorsement entreaties in favor of George W. Bush. In 2008, Ehrlich loudly endorsed Rudy Giuliani in the presidential primaries, backing McCain only after he had sewn up the nomination. I remember the endorsement event in Halethorpe, especially the sad, uncomfortable, unsmiling expressions on Bob and Kendel Ehrlich’s faces. The only thing missing was a casket.

Second, McCain’s endorsement came only hours before the Brian Murphy campaign announced that Sarah Palin would be making robocalls in support of Murphy’s long shot candidacy. News coverage of the McCain endorsement was unclear as to whether or not it was something the Ehrlich campaign sought. But, they were quick to publicize it when it came. This feeds the perception that the McCain nod was a last minute, reactive move orchestrated to counter the Palin factor.

Third, one has to wonder what Team Ehrlich thinks the McCain endorsement will actually accomplish. The kinds of people who will be voting in today’s primary – Tea Party members, pro-life/pro-gun/anti-immigrant single issue voters, budget hawks – are not the kind of people who would be swayed by the endorsement of a moderate like McCain. Indeed, one can make the case that McCain’s endorsement alienates more voters than it impresses.

Over the past few weeks, Team Ehrlich has been scrambling to cope with the Brian Murphy factor. After months of ignoring Murphy, they belatedly realized they needed to take a few aggressive steps – such as running TV ads before the primary election – to ensure that Murphy doesn’t wound or embarrass Ehrlich by defying expectations. The eleventh hour McCain endorsement should be viewed in this context.

McCain is a great American, to be sure. But wheeling him in for a last minute endorsement of questionable value reeks of desperation.

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