Josh Marshall noted this morning,” I was wondering when this would come up. As a lot of us remember, John McCain was very close to leaving the Republican party in 2001 and becoming either a Democrat or, much more likely, an independent a la Jim Jeffords who would caucus with the Democrats. The Hill gives the story another shake and talks to folks like Daschle and others who were in on the negotiations.”
The funny thing is, The Hill hasn’t really given the story another shake; it’s just that the story from last March has suddenly been re-discovered by political observers. Mitt Romney began emphasizing this over the last week, and slowly but surely, it’s apparently gaining traction.
To be sure, it seems like the kind of story that could undermine McCain’s bid quite a bit.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was close to leaving the Republican Party in 2001, weeks before then-Sen. Jim Jeffords (Vt.) famously announced his decision to become an Independent, according to former Democratic lawmakers who say they were involved in the discussions.
In interviews with The Hill this month, former Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and ex-Rep. Tom Downey (D-N.Y.) said there were nearly two months of talks with the maverick lawmaker following an approach by John Weaver, McCain’s chief political strategist.
Democrats had contacted Jeffords and then-Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.) in the early months of 2001 about switching parties, but in McCain’s case, they said, it was McCain’s top strategist who came to them. (emphasis added)
According to the story in The Hill, Weaver asked Daschle and Downey in March 2001 why Democrats hadn’t reached out to McCain to switch parties. “Well, if the right people asked him,” Weaver said, according to Downey, adding that he responded, “The calls will be made. Who do you want?”
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