Just returning from a one-on-one interview with John McCain, I thought I’d provide a little behind-the-scenes as to how these things work.

  Campaigns love ’em, of course.  Stations play up their one-on-one opportunities, promote them heavily, and a candidate can easily knock off 4-5 of them in a half-hour’s time, earning loads of valuable “free media”.

  We traveled seven hours for our five minutes with John McCain, driving to Orlando at 7 AM, and back to So FL at 7 PM (I’m blogging from the front seat).  I fielded 10-12 phone calls with McCain advance men over the weekend (every time they called, they wanted me there earlier–asking, at one point, that I arrive no later than 10:45 AM for a 2 PM interview).

  The one-on-one-palooza was held in a social room at the Puerto Rican center in suburban Orlando, just upstairs from where McCain spoke to a crowd of about 250 folks (his crowds without Palin are a lot smaller– Democrats were crowing about how empty the 16,000-seat arena in Jacksonville looked this morning, with only 3-4,000 seats filled– see photo below).



Two quick notes about McCain’s Orlando event.  It was the first rally I’ve seen with Jeb Bush in attendance.  As you may recall, a lot of Jebolytes were active in the Mitt Romney campaign, back in January.  The ex-Gov himself stayed neutral until just after Florida’s primary, when he quietly wrote McCain a check.  McCain was fulsome in his praise of Jeb Bush’s reforms to Florida schools.

  Another point of interest—McCain stuck very closely to his notes when discussing the Market Meltdown and, afterward, I think I figured out why.  In the morning’s first event in Jacksonville, he had opined, despite the turmoil on Wall Street, that “the fundamentals of our economy are strong.” 

  It didn’t take the Obama campaign, the Democratic Party, and labor unions long to jump on that remark, presenting it as more evidence that the candidate who can’t remember how many homes he and his wife own doesn’t feel the average guy’s economic pain.

  The McCain folks had whipped up a clarification in time for his appearance in Orlando.  By “strong fundamentals”, McCain said he had been referring to the American worker and the country’s strong entrepreneurial class.  His main point, he said—Americans weren’t “to blame” for the trouble on Wall Street—white-collar nee’er-do-wells who treated the markets “like a casino” were at fault.

  As the Town Hall event wound down, we were herded back up to the interview room.  Photographers from Orlando’s NBC affiliate, WESH, had set up two cameras—one focused on Senator McCain, one aimed at “the talent” (yes, that is how they refer to reporters, not always accurately).  My photog, Mark Thompson, figured out how to record the output of those cameras in his camera and computer/editor—no mean technical feat, believe me.

  WESH’s main anchor was to have the first 5-minute window, then a reporter from Telemundo/Orlando, then me.  Once Senator McCain entered the room, I was asked to wait in the hallway– so I couldn’t steal the others’ good questions, I guess.

  The hallway outside is full of nervous security folk and aides, checking their watches and mumbling into their sleeves. When I entered Sen. McCain, who stays seated in the same chair as questioners troop in and out, greeted me.  We made small talk about football.  I bemoaned the Dolphins’ poor performance against his hometown Cardinals, while he mourned the upset loss suffered by Arizona State over the weekend. (Sports are such a good ice-breaker—as First Lady, Hillary Clinton warmed up immediately when I disclosed my status as a long-suffering Cubs fan.  That was before her suspicious conversion to the cause of the NY Yankees).

  As for the interview itself—it ran absolutely true to form.  I asked what I thought were pretty tough questions.  Senator McCain answered easier questions.

   Take question #1: I asked whether there was any validity to the Obama camp’s charge that deregulation of financial markets during the Bush years has caused Wall Street’s current troubles.

  McCain took me, once again, through what he meant by “strong fundamentals” of the American economy (remember, that’s only a roundabout compliment to the US labor force), and said the whole system of financial regs dated from the 30’s, and needs to be updated.

  Question 2: I asked, since he’d claimed during the campaign that Mayor Giuliani and Ex-Gov Romney would need “on the job training” to handle national security matters, whether his VP pick wouldn’t need the same, since Sarah Palin had served less time in smaller places than either Giuliani or Romney.  McCain’s answer was “no” because, he said, Palin was an expert on energy, and had been right about the troop surge in Iraq while Barack Obama had opposed it.

  Question 3: Should US restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba be eased, to allow Cuban-Americans to directly help relatives who suffered hurricane calamity?  McCain only said the Cuban government should stop refusing US government help.

  Next, I asked about Karl Rove’s contention that some McCain ads contain claims that are less than 100% true.  McCain stood by his ads.

  All the while, an aide hovered nearby, giving me subtle hand signals when my five minutes were up.  On “Meet the Press” and “Face the Nation”, moderators have a chance to follow up, press for details (no one did it better than Russert).  Five minutes gives you little latitude.

  So the resulting interview (available elsewhere on NBC6-dot-net) is not wholly satisfying.  But, since Barack Obama will be in So Fla Friday, I already have my request in to do the same rhetorical “rope-a-dope” with him.




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