VOL. 122 | NO. 68 | Friday, April 13, 2007
Presidential Hopeful McCain to Speak In Memphis
By Andy Meek
When Republican presidential candidate John McCain addresses the Economic Club of Memphis next week, he'll bring to Memphis a campaign that already boasts several connections to the city.
For one thing, McCain - the Arizona senator who's one of a handful of contenders for the GOP's 2008 nomination - has enjoyed a long friendship with FedEx founder and CEO Frederick W. Smith. McCain's presidential exploratory committee was co-chaired by none other than Smith, a Vietnam veteran like McCain.
Back in 2002, Smith helped throw a party to mark the publication of a memoir McCain co-wrote, "Worth the Fighting For."
And on Monday, the Memphis business icon will introduce the senator at his lunchtime address, to be held at 12:15 p.m. in the ballroom of the Holiday Inn-University of Memphis at 3700 Central Ave.
Walking in Memphis
But even as early as last year, Memphis already was one of the first stops on the 2008 presidential express for McCain, when he and other GOP big-wigs put in appearances at the 2006 Southern Republican Leadership Conference held at The Peabody Hotel. Via events such as a straw poll that was conducted for attendees, the conference served as a kind of wind-up for the first big pitches in the race.
And McCain, the subject of a profile in February's issue of Vanity Fair magazine titled "Prisoner of Conscience," boasts still other connections to Memphis.
The presidential hopeful recently has hired as his campaign manager Terry Nelson, the Republican operative who, among other things, approved the creation of the now-infamous "Harold, call me" ad that garnered widespread attention in last year's U.S. Senate contest between Memphis Democrat Harold Ford Jr. and Chattanooga Republican Bob Corker.
McCain's Memphis speech, meanwhile, is one of three policy-oriented speeches he's scheduled to give this month. He delivered the first, which dealt with Iraq, Wednesday at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington. Founded in 1839, the institute is the first state military college in the nation.
In Memphis, he'll focus on the economy, and later this month McCain will discuss his domestic agenda.
"Sen. McCain is going to discuss taxes, trade and economic policy during his remarks (in Memphis)," said campaign spokesman Tucker Bounds. "He's going to focus on his vision for American prosperity and the ways in which our economic focus must adjust to meet today's challenges."
As of mid-week, more than 260 people already had signed up to attend McCain's speech here, which generally coincides with the official launch of his presidential campaign this month.
The 'next new thing'
But the Memphis visit may take on added importance, as it would appear to come at a time that's begun to seem like a crossroads for McCain. One reason is the first - albeit still preliminary - reports on fund raising for the 2008 race on the Republican side were released a few days ago.
They showed McCain in third place, trailing former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney's well-oiled fund-raising machine and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani's star power.
"I think he's run up against two or three things that typically plague candidates who try to recycle themselves," said Memphis attorney John Ryder, a key player in Republican circles locally and nationally. "He was a fresh face and presented an alternative to George W. Bush in the primary in 2000.
"In 2008, he is no longer a fresh face, and to some extent the public is looking for the next new thing - and he's not new."
Nevertheless, there's still a luster attached to McCain that's apparently hard to shake. Back in November, for example, Newsweek columnist and senior editor Jonathan Alter was the featured speaker at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library's fifth anniversary fund-raiser gala.
During a question-and-answer period, someone in the crowd pressed Alter, who's covered the last six presidential campaigns for Newsweek and written more than 50 cover stories for the magazine, about the 2008 presidential race.
Know thy stuff
It would have been difficult not to. Alter, for example, was standing a few feet away from President Bush at Ground Zero in New York when the president famously addressed rescue workers through a bullhorn a few days after 9/11. So the veteran newsman seems to be in a position to know his stuff.
His prediction: McCain probably will go up against the fresh-faced Democratic senator from Illinois, Barack Obama.
On Monday, one half of that lineup will address the Economic Club, a forum for local business executives founded in 1973. The address likely will be an eloquent homily written by McCain's usual speechwriter Mark Salter, the co-author of McCain's series of books with patriotic titles such as "Worth the Fighting For."
Speaking to freshmen at a convocation ceremony last fall at Boston College, McCain included in his remarks his thoughts on purpose and individualism that hint at the philosophy that might guide his presidential ambitions.
"All lives are a struggle against selfishness," he said. "All my life, I've stood a little apart from institutions I willingly joined. It just felt natural to me. But if my life had no shared common purpose, it wouldn't have amounted to much more than eccentric. There is no honor or happiness in just being strong enough to be left alone."
For more information or to reserve a spot at the forum, call Terry Adams at 678-2443.