Four days after Arianna Huffington first reported it, John McCain's 2000 VoteGate has become the election issue du jour. The New York Times, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times have all run stories confirming Huffington's account that in 2000 a still steaming McCain did not vote for George W. Bush, the man who savaged him and his family during the Republican primaries. But as the fevered denials from his campaign show, the story of McCain's hate-love relationship with Bush is the tale of Mr. Straight Talk's tightrope walk from personal pride to political opportunism.
Huffington's she said, he said about McCain's 2000 vote began on Monday. Huffington claimed that a gathering in Los Angeles after the November election John McCain told her, "I didn't vote for George Bush." (Cindy McCain, apparently more forthcoming about her 2000 vote than her 2007 tax returns, chimed in, "I didn't either.") After McCain spokesman Mark Salter protested, "it's not true and I ask you to consider the source," the Times and the Post verified Huffington's account with West Wing stars Bradley Whitford and Richard Schiff, both of whom were in attendance at Candace Bergen's Beverly Hills bash that night.
What is beyond dispute, however, is McCain's past hatred for George W. Bush. As Time reported in March 2000, McCain then showed a visceral disgust towards Bush and his scorched earth campaign:
But many close McCain advisers think the personal rift between the two men is too wide to bridge, at least in the near term. After all, the last time Bush tried to smooth things over-at a South Carolina debate in early February-the result was less than promising. During a commercial break, Bush grasped McCain's hands and made a sugary plea for less acrimony in their campaign. When McCain pointed out that Bush's allies were savaging him in direct-mail and phone campaigns, Bush played the innocent. "Don't give me that shit," McCain growled, pulling away. "And take your hands off me."
John McCain could certainly be forgiven for his anger, given the painful memories of character assassination, smears and lies the Bush camp dished out during the 2000 campaign. After McCain's upset win in the New Hampshire primary, Bush operatives during the critical South Carolina contest phoned voters with push polls implying McCain was anti-Catholic, his wife Cindy a drug addict, and that he had fathered an illegitimate black child with a prostitute. (In reality, the McCains had adopted a baby from an orphanage in Bangladesh.) McCain even received an early version of the Swift Boat treatment, with allegations that his Vietnam War captivity in Hanoi left him mentally unstable. All of these slurs came as candidate Bush chastised McCain that he couldn't "take the high horse and then claim the low road." It's no wonder he angrily rejected Bush's feigned attempt in 2000 to bury the hatchet.
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