Ben Birnbaum ’08 has been traveling on the McCain campaign trail for the past several months. He has spoken with several politicians, both Democrats and Republicans, and recently sat down with Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-Minn.) and Gov. Bill Richardson (D-N.M.).
The Sun: As an early supporter of John McCain, what was your reaction when his campaign imploded in the summer of 2007?
Tim Pawlenty: Well, obviously, it was disappointing, but anybody who’s been around Senator McCain for any length of time knows never to count him out. He’s a fighter, he’s a scrapper, and he’s not somebody you want to take for granted or count out. He always rallies. His life is a whole story of challenge, coming from behind, being an underdog, and this comeback in 2007 was just one more example of that. It was a dramatic example, but it’s consistent with his whole compelling life story.
Sun: You weren’t surprised that he was able to pull it off?
Pawlenty: Well, of course, many people didn’t think he could do it. And there was skepticism. But if you know John McCain, you know he just doesn’t quit. And persistence is something that throughout history has proven effective. It doesn’t always work, but persistence, courage steadfastness. Those are characteristics associated with John McCain. And they served him well. I think anybody lesser would have quit. And it’s a credit to him.
The Sun: Many credit you with saving Barack Obama’s candidacy at a time that his nomination seemed in jeopardy amid the Jeremiah Wright controversy. What caused you to endorse him?
Bill Richardson: I felt he was able to project unity in this country. We need more than somebody who can bring the country together, that really represents change. And I felt Obama was that person. I’d gotten to know him during the debates. I think he’s a once-in-a-lifetime leader, and I’m very pleased I supported him when I did.
Sun: You said that his speech on race in America was one of the factors in your endorsement. Could you elaborate?
Richardson: I thought that was one of the best speeches I’ve ever seen. He confronted the issue directly. He addressed the problem. He denounced Rev. Wright, but talked about how there’s prejudice in every one of us in some way. And he got personal. And I felt it was a great speech.
Sun: Was it a tough decision for you as a former Clinton appointee?
Richardson: It was a very tough decision because I’m very fond of the Clintons. I worked in the Clinton administration. The Clintons were very good to me. But I felt that I had paid back and that my decision should be based on what’s best for the country. And in my view, the best candidate was Senator Obama. And I think that’s been vindicated by his enormously strong performance, not just in the primaries but as a general-election candidate.
Sun: Did it hurt when James Carville called you “Judas”?
Richardson: Not really. You know, I’m used to political attacks. I didn’t want to get in the gutter.
Sun: When did you decide to grow the beard?
Richardson: Right after the race. It was a moment of liberation.
Sun: Do women ever mistake you for Jimmy Smits?
Richardson: No, I wish they did!