McCain camp chief says GOP ‘attitude vs. Hispanics’ cost Colorado election

In a story on a postelection “war stories” panel conducted Thursday at Harvard University among top strategists from the Obama and McCain campaigns, the National Journal’s Nicholas Tabor reports — among plenty of behind-the-scenes insights into the 2008 presidential campaign — that the McCain campaign gets it when it comes to the GOP’s failed relationship to Hispanic voters in key states, including Colorado.

Speaking after the event, [John McCain manager Rick] Davis said the Republican Party has “got to change its attitude versus Hispanics” in order to win in the future. Given the “really crazy things said on talk radio” in the name of the GOP, Davis said, “I don’t blame Hispanics for not voting for us.”

“California, Colorado, Texas, Florida –- we can’t win in these states any more,” he added.

Polls show Hispanic voters made up 17 percent of the Colorado vote — up from 9 percent in 2004 — and supported Democrat Barack Obama nearly 2-to-1. The results marked a dramatic shift from 2004, when President Bush garnered an estimated 40 percent support among Hispanic voters nationwide.

Surveying the Colorado GOP’s bloodbath shortly after the election, a former Republican officeholder called on the party of his youth to stop pushing Hispanics — the fastest-growing voter bloc in the nation — into the arms of Democrats. “I was a Republican — 28 years,” former University of Colorado Regent Jim Martin wrote in a Colorado Independent commentary. “Like so many others who now vote Democratic, I didn’t leave the party — it left me. Based on the analyses this month’s election, it also left college graduates, suburbanites, and Hispanics in the Red State dust.”

Among other nuggets revealed in Thursday’s discussion, moderated by PBS host Gwen Ifill with Obama strategist David Axelrod and campaign manager David Plouffe, along with McCain campaign manager Davis and former chief pollster Bill McInturff:

• McCain’s manager agreed that the “Faustian bargains” his candidate made with the Republican base to secure the nomination cost him the election. After staking out a position as the primary supporter of “the surge” in Iraq, McCain “essentially became the Bush administration spokesperson on Iraq,” McInturff said. “In typical John McCain fashion, we managed to alienate every side of our political party.”

• The selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as McCain’s running mate — or someone equally out of the box — was necessary because the McCain campaign was falling further and further behind through the summer. “You feel the tug of history,” Davis said. “It was a historic election, and to some degree you have to fit into that narrative.” However, once Palin started campaigning as a “change maverick,” she sealed McCain’s fate. “Their campaign was predicated on the celebrity thing,” Axelrod said, “and in one stroke, they blew up the month before, and now they were fighting on our turf.”

• McCain’s campaign “suspension” when the financial crisis first hit in September was handled poorly, Davis acknowledged. He pegged “pissing off [CBS “Late Show” host David] Letterman,” as the “most damaging act of the campaign” and said “the last thing I thought I was going to do in August was lobbying Congress.”

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Ernest Luning

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