JOYESHA CHESNICK Citizen Staff Writer
Sen. John McCain’s victory in New Hampshire’s Republican presidential primary won’t prompt bigwig contributors to reach for their wallets just yet, local political observers say.
McCain must continue to trample front-runner Gov. George W. Bush in South Carolina and beyond for that to happen, they said.
And even if it occurs, it doesn’t guarantee him a viable shot at the presidency.
”Gov. Bush has raised a lot of money. A lot of the party’s leadership have been supporting him and they will continue to support him regardless of the outcome of New Hampshire,” said Joe Pennington, chairman of the Pima County Republican Party.
”As we get farther, however, if McCain continues to win, things will change. People will have to say, ‘If Bush can’t beat McCain, can we reasonably expect him to beat the Democratic candidate?’ ”
Even Bush supporters agree that McCain’s 49 percent to 31 percent win last night was a boost to the Arizona senator’s campaign.
But they say the nomination is still very much up in the air.
”Certainly, John McCain ran an excellent race in New Hampshire and deserves the praise that is coming his way,” said Jack Jewett, senior vice president of Tucson Medical Center and chairman of Pima County’s Bush for President campaign.
”But New Hampshire traditionally supports the maverick. And McCain fits that image. . . This was round one.”
South Carolina’s Feb. 19 primary will be a ”better test” for the two Republicans, since nearly 40 percent of New Hampshire voters are independent, Jewett said.
”What is clear is that McCain did well among independents. South Carolina is a more pure Republican turnout,” he said.
But Pima County Supervisor Ray Carroll, a member of the McCain 2000 campaign, pointed out that McCain also won the Republican vote in New Hampshire.
”When you look at the Republican turnout for McCain, it was huge,” he said. ”Independents played a great role, but he held his own with Republicans.”
Carroll predicted his candidate would be successful in South Carolina, as well.
”This kind of victory could catch fire. And it gives us a lot of local pride,” Carroll said.
Mike Hellon, Arizona Republican National committeeman, said McCain’s win was larger than he expected.
”I predicted a four- to six-point victory,” he said. ”If we got a couple of breaks, it could go to eight to 10 points, and anything above 10 is a blowout. None of us dared predict the size of victory it was.”
Hellon believed the momentum would give McCain a ”very, very good chance of winning South Carolina and he will win Arizona.”
The Arizona primary is Feb. 22.
Pennington agreed McCain has a good shot in South Carolina because a high percentage of the state’s registered voters are retired military men and women who might be attracted to his record as a war veteran.
”And money follows momentum,” Pennington said. ”And of course, media coverage follows momentum.”
He cautioned, however, that Bush is far from being beat.
”To have a loss in any race at this point is a negative,” he said. ”With that said, can a candidate overcome that? We only have to look at the 1992 primary where the Democratic candidate (Bill Clinton) who became president came in second in New Hampshire.”
Democrats had a mixed reaction to McCain’s win.
”That’s not of a great concern to the Democratic party,” said Martin Bacal, Democratic National Committeeman for Arizona. ”But it gives the appearance to most people that McCain appears to have more depth.”
C.T. Revere, Citizen political writer, contributed to this report.