McCain's Arizona Problem

If the senator will listen, he might learn why he's trailing George W. Bush in his home state

Hinz says he didn't expect to change the senator's mind, only to remind him of strong opposition to the measure in the state.

McCain was blunt, Hinz recalls. The John McCain with whom Hinz says he spoke is not the John McCain the Washington press coos over, the campaign-finance-reform maverick disgusted with special interests' control over our lives.

Hinz doesn't recall the exact wording of the conversation, so the following is paraphrased.

Hinz says he told McCain, "'What we're hoping is that there's any way that you cannot hear this bill [in committee].'

"And his response to me was that, 'You know this is a bill that the trial lawyers don't like.' And he said, 'I can tell you that . . . the trial lawyer money goes to the Kennedys and the Democrats, and not to the Republicans.' And there is no way that he [McCain] is going to fight [Republican] leadership on a bill that all the money is going to the Democrats."

". . . I wasn't shocked by the response," Hinz says. "He was instructed by leadership that he would hear this bill and the constituents be damned. John's attitude, you have to remember, as a senator is that he does not necessarily represent Arizona, he represents the national interest. And he indicated that to me. He feels that this is good for the nation. So the 85-15 vote in Arizona really had no bearing on it."

Hinz adds, "I made the phone call to alert him that it [Auto Choice] could be a little politically sensitive in Arizona, because it has been so heavily defeated. And yes, the trial lawyers in Washington [oppose Auto Choice], but when something passed 85-15 in Arizona, a few Republicans voted for it! And that was primarily my message to him: 'John, the grassroots Republicans don't like this bill. It's an insurance company bill and it's Armey's bill,' and that's when he said, 'It's a leadership bill. I'm not going to buck leadership.'

"John isn't stupid, okay? The word was that when you look at the Republicans and the war chests and the monies that are given to support those efforts, that money does not go to those Republicans. And I reminded him that in Arizona the trial lawyers support several Republicans."

The conversation ended cordially, but with no agreement. "He wasn't gonna convince me and I wasn't gonna convince him," Hinz says.

Hinz has his own theory on McCain's agreement to co-sponsor the bill. One of the bill's biggest fans is Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, who also happens to be a vehement opponent of McCain's campaign-finance legislation. Hinz thinks this was McCain's way of appeasing leadership.

"I think when you've been to the woodshed too often and then you have a very popular Republican program, I think he owed them one," Hinz says. "And unfortunately, he owed them one that the people of Arizona hate."

He adds, "You're a maverick when it's to your advantage and the cameras are rolling."

I called McCain, but he couldn't come to the phone. Instead, I received a call from Mark Buse, staff director of the Senate Commerce Committee. Yes, Buse says, McCain had a brief conversation with Hinz. But the senator doesn't recall specifics. Buse says the senator is a big supporter of tort reform--not just in this instance, but many others.

"As far as the comment about the money," Buse says, "he's made it very clear, and he states this publicly, as he stated it publicly just recently on Good Morning--no, on the Today show, that because of the huge amounts of money given to both sides that many bills don't become law and that much good legislation does not occur."

Buse insists--repeatedly--that McCain never made the comments about not wanting to buck leadership.

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