McCain Surrogate: I'm Simply Less Principled Than McCain
There was a bizarrely repentant tone to a conference call organized by the McCain campaign on Friday, as a surrogate to the Senator was forced to defend McCain's opposition to a bill that he personally had supported.
Sounding like a suspect confessing to some sort of crime, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart was asked how he could be so laudatory of McCain's criticism of the Water Resources Development Act, when that very piece of legislation directly benefited the congressman's own district.
"I voted for it. I voted for it because, I admit it, I was being parochial. I was being parochial. I represent the entirety of the Everglades," said the Republican from Florida. "Sen. McCain, frankly, doesn't play that game. He does what he believes is right for the entirety of the nation... He said very clearly [his objections to] the fact that there was some pork-barrel spending in the bill -- and by the way, there is, there was. So the realty is, I did it, yes. I voted for it, yes. I was being parochial. The one thing about McCain is that he will always be consistent. He will not accept a penny of pork barrel spending, and that is why he was against it. But to say that because he was against it, he is against Everglades restoration is just not true."
The whole episode was an effort in spin. Diaz-Balart's 'McCain-is-a-better-man-than-me' approach came as the Arizona Republican made a campaign stop at the Florida Everglades, a region which received $2 billion in restoration funds in the water resources development act.
Clearly, the McCain campaign was interested in changing scripts. In addition to insisting that the bill was an exercise in unwieldy pork, and pointing out that Sen. Barack Obama's national co-chair, Sen. Claire McCaskill, had also voted against the measure, aides to the Arizona Republican offered non-sequitur defenses.
"These attacks are coming from a candidate who talks about change but continues to do and want the same old thing, to divert attention from the real issues," Diaz-Balart said of Obama. "Obama's willingness to meet unconditionally with thugs and terrorists...are the issues that Sen. Obama doesn't want to be discussing, which is why he is frankly distorting the facts on this bill."
Earlier in the day, the Obama campaign had organized a conference call of its own to badger McCain for going against the will of the entire Florida delegation - as well as the governor of the state - by opposing the measure.
"John McCain has not only demonstrated his complete lack of understanding of the issue, but has also made clear that his support for President Bush's veto of critical funding for the Everglades had much more to do with partisan politics than principle," said Obama aide Hari Sevugan.
More than just a tit-for-tat over a regional issue, the debate between the two presidential campaigns on Friday demonstrates some potential pitfalls that confront McCain's hopes for the White House. In the process of crafting out a niche in Congress as someone who would not back earmarks or other narrowly-focused budget projects, the Arizona Republican has put himself at odds with many members from his own party. The disagreements could bolster McCain's image as someone who has streaks of political independence. But they also thrust his congressional surrogates into the awkward position of having to criticize (or defend opposition to) bills or actions that they themselves supported.
UPDATE: Think Progress has a post up poking holes in the argument that McCain votes against bills he likes because they include wasteful spending. Evidence to the contrary? Take Iraq. Though on some war funding bills the Senator has expressed reservations about "other spending" even though he votes for the measure.