Because natural resources is one of my beats, I drew the assignment to cover the Natural Resources Town Hall featuring Sen. John McCain Saturday afternoon. The event was a thinly disguised effort to rally support for Arizona House Speaker Jake Flake, who, it would appear, is plenty concerned about Cameron Udall's challenge.
It's a tactic both parties are using with increasing frequency as the 2004 campaign enters its last frenzied week. Associate your candidate with a party "star" and see if some of the stardust won't rub off.
As a registered Democrat, I wasn't terribly excited to spend my Saturday afternoon at what was essentially a Republican campaign rally.
The number of Republicans I have voted for over the past 40-some years can be counted on both hands, with more than a couple fingers to spare. In fact, I've probably voted for more Libertarians than I have for Republicans.
But a funny thing happened at the Natural Resources Town Hall: I discovered a Republican candidate I actually liked. McCain addressed the issues of concern to me with an engaging mix of candor, intelligence, insight, humor and, of all things, humility.
In an era of combative politicians who spew party rhetoric, McCain is as refreshing as rain in the Rim country.
While the mostly-intelligent questions asked by the 200-plus residents who attended the meeting ranged far afield of "natural resources," they were generally focused on what I see as this country's greatest problem -- misplaced government largess and the fiscal irresponsibility that inevitably accompanies it. Specifically that means subsidies and tax breaks for the wealthy and large corporations leading to a massive federal deficit and the impending bankruptcy of Social Security.
McCain's message was simple: Washington needs to make some tough decisions within the context of a system that's broken. While he didn't pretend to know how to do that, the fact that a politician understands the problem offers at least a glimmer of hope.
Of course the question of McCain's presidential aspirations also came up. I found it very classy that he deflected it by quoting one of my favorite Democrats, the late Mo Udall, "If you're a U.S. Senator, unless you're under indictment or detoxification you automatically consider yourself a candidate for president."
I also found myself hoping that he does run for president in four years. He is one of few people on the political horizon with the vision and charisma to unite our nation behind the "tough decisions" that lie ahead.
John McCain is a Republican I could vote for.