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McCain and Udall, Sitting in a Tree

Mo Udall, mo problems.
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Our sister paper in Phoenix carries a lengthy cover story this week about the Arizona legacy of John McCain, who allegedly is some sort of presidential candidate (although I haven't seen him on the cover of any magazines -- weird).

The story -- "Postmodern John McCain: the presidential candidate some Arizonans know — and loathe" -- features some amusing appearances from former Nugget and 'Zona senator Mo Udall, father of Colorado Congressman Mark. They include this little ditty:

You hear that a lot around town these days, mainly because McCain tends to bring up Goldwater and Udall a lot on the campaign trail. It drives some people here nuts. Particularly those who know, or knew, all three men.

People who were around then say it was obvious that McCain moved to Arizona to run for office. There have been several instances of such carpetbagging by now (like Hillary Clinton in New York), but it wasn't as common in 1982. To his credit, McCain worked hard and won a hotly contested four-way race to represent the congressional district that covered Mesa, Tempe, and other parts of the eastern portion of metropolitan Phoenix.

Then he had some catching up to do.

He did a lot of it, in the early days, with Mo Udall, the congressman from Tucson. Udall liked to joke that he could hold meetings of the U.S. House Democrats from Arizona in his bathtub. That might be why he worked so well with Republicans. McCain took to him immediately and as Udall's top aide, Bob Neuman, recalls, Udall was happy to help.

Neuman, who worked for Udall for many years in the 1970s and again in the '80s, says McCain "clung to Mo," that he dropped by the office unannounced all the time. This became awkward during the 1986 Senate race, Neuman says, when Arizona Democratic Party operatives worried that McCain was using Udall as a campaign tool. They asked Neuman to put some distance between the two.

Udall's aide tried to be subtle, but McCain got the message. And Neuman felt his wrath. He refuses to repeat the expletives the then-congressman used when he called to bawl him out, but recalls thinking there was something really wrong with the guy.

Neuman says he thinks McCain did try, early on, to model himself after Udall, in terms of both developing a sense of humor and a concern for environmental issues.

In the end, though, McCain hasn't come out too Udall-esque on either front.

Udall's humor tended toward self-deprecation. During a rare break for a golf game during the 1976 presidential campaign, someone asked him about his handicap. "I'm a one-eyed Mormon Democrat from conservative Arizona," he joked. "You can't find a higher handicap than that."

So true, Mo. So true. -- Joe Tone

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