09/11/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Media-Created Myth That Veterans Love McCain

Of all the over-blown media-created narratives in this presidential race, one of the most easily debunked is the notion that John McCain (R) is very popular among veterans, just as Barack Obama (D) is especially popular with young voters, or that Hillary Clinton (D) was with older female voters, or as Mike Huckabee (R) was with Evangelical voters.

First, anecdotally, check out yesterday's story in the Las Vegas Sun following McCain's event with disabled veterans in Las Vegas on Saturday. The title of the story is McCain’s Attacks On Rival Fall Flat With Vets Group.

Here's an excerpt:

Sen. John McCain, speaking to disabled veterans Saturday in Las Vegas, attacked his Democratic opponent, Sen. Barack Obama, for his foreign policy record, while also proposing a program that would allow veterans to acquire health care at private hospitals and not just through the Veterans Affairs Department.

The veterans, at Bally’s for their national convention, gave him a tepid reception, especially considering McCain’s life story. The Arizona senator was a Navy pilot shot down over Vietnam, tortured and held as a prisoner of war for 5 1/2 years.

Just one of 14 veterans interviewed by the Sun after his speech said he is a certain McCain voter, and the nonpartisan group’s legislative director expressed concerns about McCain’s proposed “Veterans’ Care Access Card.”

And what did the actual veterans have to say about Maverick?

Other veterans, such as James Jewett and Jay Johnson of Texas, expressed misgivings about McCain using the occasion to attack his opponent so fiercely.

Duke Hendershot, a double amputee retired Marine who served in Vietnam, supported McCain’s run for president in 2000 but is undecided this year.

“John just isn’t the same as he used to be. He’s not his own man,” said Hendershot, who lives in San Antonio, Texas. “A lot of that has to do with how he’s wanted this job so bad for so long that he’s tied himself to President Bush.”

He said McCain’s embrace of Bush, whom Hendershot called a “draft-dodging coward,” is even more perplexing because of the rivalry between the two candidates during the 2000 campaign.

Hendershot also criticized McCain for taking swipes at Obama in his speech. “He should have been talking about veterans issues, not his opponent,” he said.

By contrast, he praised Obama for keeping his remarks tightly focused on veterans. The Democrat gave taped remarks via video.

But there's actually nothing new about this, as a number of veterans groups have been very critical of McCain's record and have awarded him much lower scores than Barack Obama (D) on the issues most important to them. Vet Voice has been reporting about this growing chasm for a long time.

Last month, took McCain to task for his recent assertion, "I have a perfect voting record from organizations like the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion and all the other veterans' service organizations," as being simply untrue:

He said that he had "a perfect voting record from organizations like the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion." But we called both of those groups, and they told us they don't even release congressional scorecards. In fact, the American Legion's constitution prohibits it.

...McCain doesn’t have a perfect score with DAV (Disabled American Veterans), a group of 1.3 million disabled veterans that supports more funding for veterans health care. McCain has a 20 percent record of voting the way DAV would like him to in 2006.

Apparently, these things haven't stopped the media from pushing the narrative that veterans are with McCain.

But much more egregious is that the media hasn't bothered assessing the exit polling from the primaries that they paid for to determine whether McCain was actually excelling with this group, just as Obama, Clinton and Huckabee had greatly over-performed with their groups.

Turns out that McCain was barely overperforming with veterans in the contested Republican primaries (before Romney and Huckabee dropped-out), and often failed to crack 40 percent of their support. Here's what the exit polling told us:

State McCain %

Total Vote

McCain %

Among Vets


AZ 47% 50% +3%
CA 42% 46% +4%
CT 52% 53% +1%
FL 36% 42% +6%
GA 32% 37% +5%
LA 42% 47% +5%
MI 30% 41% +11%
MO 33% 39% +6%
TN 32% 36% +4%
SC 33% 36% +3%
VA 50% 51% +1%

So, only in Michigan did McCain overperform with veterans by more than six points, and be mindful that there wasn't another prominent Republican veteran in the race that would have pulled support away from McCain because of their own service.

Now compare how Mike Huckabee (R) overperformed with Evangelicals in those same primary states versus McCain's margins with veterans:

State McCain






AZ 3% 6%
CA 4% 12%
CT 1% 19%
FL 6% 17%
GA 5% 9%
LA 5% 15%
MI 11% 13%
MO 6% 10%
TN 4% 8%
SC 3% 13%
VA 1% 21%


Maybe most noteworthy is how only 50% of all Republican veterans in Arizona backed McCain in the presidential primary held in his own state.

But as you can, Huckabee clearly outperformed with Evangelicals, and is rightly regarded as being a favorite of that group. In contrast, veterans backed McCain by significantly smaller margins, despite the media narrative that this was his group.

So, given that McCain has not done well among veterans' groups that put out scores, that veterans at his own events have been publicly critical of him and his campaign, and the fact that McCain really didn't perform much better among veterans than with primary voters as a whole, why does the media continue to paint McCain as some beloved figure among veterans?

Mark Nickolas is the Managing Editor of Political Base, and this story was from his original post, "The Media-Created Myth That Veterans Love McCain"