Monday, November 18, 2002
The Salt Lake Tribune


WASHINGTON -- All may not be over. A Democratic dream scenario is
actually possible, and it goes like this:
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Lincoln Chaffee, R-R.I., are
among the few remaining moderate or liberal senators -- depending
upon your point of view. They regard themselves as moderates, and
they often vote with Democrats in opposition to President Bush and
their fellow GOP colleagues.
McCain has co-sponsored campaign-finance legislation with Russ
Feingold, D-Wis., patient's rights legislation with Sen. Ted Kennedy,
D-Mass., and gun control legislation with the 2000 Democratic vice
presidential nominee, Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn.
McCain recently hosted "Saturday Night Live," where he ridiculed
Attorney General John Ashcroft, claiming the nation's top prosecutor
wants to intrude upon our privacy rights.
Then, after the November election, he took a shot at the
president's views on guns, suggesting that we all go out and buy
Bushmasters, a play on the president's name and the weapon used in
the spate of Washington-area sniper shootings.
McCain campaigned for Republicans during the election, but he has
never forgiven the president for questioning his patriotism during
the 2000 South Carolina primary. And he was not pleased when similar
tactics were used against his friend, Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga. Cleland
is a highly decorated, wheelchair-bound Vietnam veteran.
So McCain is poised to jump parties.
Chaffee is even more direct, saying before the election that
America should "stay tuned," referring to his often-threatened plan
to switch parties. Except for jawboning, his Senate Republican
colleagues have made little effort to dissuade him.
Needless to say, Republicans will cry foul if these two senators
switch, throwing the majority back to the Democrats.
They will say the two are reversing the election that gave
Republicans at least 51 Senate seats. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., is
facing a runoff election in December.
Democrats will simply refer them to several famous party
switchers who went the other direction, all of them sitting senators:
Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, Phil Gramm of Texas, Richard Shelby
of Alabama and Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado. Each of them
switched party affiliations from Democratic to Republican.
The argument ran that the voters could toss them out when they
ran for re-election. In fact, all of these one-time Democrats were
re-elected as Republicans. Clearly, their constituents valued their
opinions more than their party affiliations.
The interesting collateral issue for McCain concerns his
presidential ambitions. After the recent election, the Democratic
Party is in disarray, desperately searching for a leader, especially
one who could challenge Bush in 2004. And McCain has just the star
quality they are seeking.
But will McCain and Chaffee bolt? Certainly not before the
outcome of the Louisiana election is decided, because if Landrieu
loses, their switch would leave an evenly divided Senate (50
Republicans, 49 Democrats and one independent, Jim Jeffords of
Vermont, who votes with the Democrats). And Vice President Dick
Cheney, acting in his constitutional role as president of the Senate,
would keep the Republicans in the majority.
This is why Louisiana is to 2002 what Florida was to 2000 and why
money from both parties is pouring into that state.
Prediction: There is a 50-50 chance that McCain and Chaffee will
switch parties and a similar chance that McCain will become the
Democratic standard bearer in 2004. The odds of a Landrieu victory in
Louisiana are much higher.