John McCain suspended his 2000 presidential campaign in March, but two months later he still hadn’t said the magic word — “endorse.”
The Republican senator from Arizona dropped out after a series of primary defeats left him little hope of catching Texas Gov. George W. Bush, who’d accept the Republican nomination and go on to win the White House.
McCain, who died Saturday at 81, would go on to secure the Republican nomination eight years later before losing to Barack Obama. The former Vietnam POW, elected to the House in 1982 and a senator since 1987, built up a reputation as a “maverick” for his willingness to oppose his party on some issues. The ending of his first presidential run fit that reputation.
It was a bitter campaign, with the South Carolina primary getting particularly ugly. McCain ran an ad attacking Bush for running an attack ad, with both sides blaming the other for stretching the truth. The Pittsburgh “summit” was announced at the end of April as a way for the rivals to discuss policy differences and determine McCain’s role at the upcoming Republican National Convention. The meeting was “being scrutinized by political observers and reporters as closely as Egyptologists might pore over hieroglyphics,” the New York Times wrote, with people looking for signs of party unity.
McCain had outsized influence for a beaten candidate, ABC News’ Mark Halperin said, attracting top political reporters to his events even after his campaign was over. At Ross Park Mall in the North Hills the day before the summit, McCain attracted a large crowd of reporters and photographers. The Post-Gazette’s Dennis B. Roddy called it a “minor commotion.” McCain said he was open to endorsing, but the meeting would have to be to his liking.
“Endorsement is not a big deal,” he told the Post-Gazette. “Endorsement is not a big thing.”
The 90-minute meeting took place at the Westin William Penn, Downtown. It brought a media mob to Pittsburgh, Roody wrote.
“Yesterday’s meeting drew a platoon of national reporters to Pittsburgh, where they clogged the better restaurants and spilled Starbucks coffee on the rug at the Westin William Penn,” reads the PG’s front page recap of the meeting.
When the rivals emerged from the William Penn, McCain didn’t immediately give his endorsement. At first saying he “supported” Bush, a reporter pressured McCain on the endorsement question until he gave in.
“I endorse Gov. Bush, I endorse Gov. Bush, I endorse Gov. Bush, I endorse Gov. Bush, I endorse Gov. Bush, I endorse Gov. Bush,” McCain said, repeating the line six times in six different tones.
With months of analysis and punditry about the magic e-word, in front of a sea of reporters prying the word out of him, McCain just laughed it off.