VALLEY - While every candidate at the first Republican presidential
debate Thursday night jockeyed to become the political heir to
President Reagan's legacy, John McCain showed why he may be the
spiritual heir in Nancy Reagan's heart.
Moments after the debate, as he removed his wireless
microphone from inside his suit jacket behind the stage at the Ronald
Presidential Library, the Arizona senator noticed a shiny dime on the
floor. He bent down for a closer look, then kept walking past the
The dime was lying heads down, and picking up coins that are tails up is a no-no for McCain.
I superstitious? I'm that," McCain said, walking with his wife, Cindy,
and entourage to the candidates' reception. "But I don't think I'm
At the Reagan Library, McCain, who says he has been
superstitious since he was a prisoner of war in Vietnam, had come to
the right place.
In his 1965 autobiography, Reagan admitted he was
superstitious and read syndicated horoscopes, and Nancy said she did,
too. The former president observed such superstitions as always putting
a lucky coin and gold charm in his pocket each morning, knocking on
wood, never walking under ladders and tossing
salt over his left shoulder when he spilled some.
surprisingly, Reagan cast a long shadow in the debate where his name
and character were mentioned often by each candidate - and the shadow
loomed just as big afterward in the "Spin Room" where high-profile
supporters of each candidate sought to "spin" the debate in their
Bill Simon, the one-time California gubernatorial
candidate, stumped for former Mayor Rudy Giuliani and how he typified
the traits of Reagan.
"Mayor Giuliani demonstrated that he has the strength to
lead the country in the best tradition of Ronald Reagan," said Simon,
speaking to reporters in a noisy large room packed with spin-meisters
of each candidate surrounded by microphones, recorders and cameras.
In almost every
instance, it was not just one spin-meister for a candidate but several
of them. Some, such as Simon, were politicians.
But others were political consultants and advisers working for those candidates.
of the spinners was shadowed by an anonymous staffer holding up high a
printed poster identifying the spinner and his affiliation.
In some instances, you had the candidates themselves
selling how well they had done, as in the case of Texas congressman Ron
Paul doing every local television interview he could to heighten his
name recognition, which undoubtedly took a big jump with the debate.
For his part, Giuliani looked like a prizefighter
proclaiming victory immediately after a bout. In the men's room behind
the stage, Giuliani smiled as he received pats on the back and words of
"I did well, if I say so myself," he said.
and the other candidates were all headed after the debate to a
celebratory dinner hosted by Nancy Reagan, who was escorted there - as
she was into the debate hall - by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Several invited guests said that while they had been
pleased with the debate, the show-stopper may have been the Reagan
With its presidential history and its hilltop views of the
Ventura County mountainsides, it symbolized Ronald Reagan Country and
the hold it has on the locals.
Steve Grindley, 31, of Simi Valley has been an executive
chef with the food company that caters all events at the library, and
he has been a regular at these functions since its opening.
"They've all been great, but the best event, without a
doubt, was President Reagan's funeral," Grindley said. "There were
senators and heads of other countries, and you were seeing an American
president laid to rest.
"It was part of history."
No true winner
Back in the Spin Room, the selling of the candidates went on.
spin-meisters acknowledged that in a debate with so many candidates,
declaring a true winner was impossible. No candidate had made a
monumental goof, and they all defended the hard-line positions the
candidates took on such issues as Roe v. Wade and immigration.
Spin-meisters for the top-tier candidates - Giuliani,
McCain and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney - said their respective men
had handled themselves well.
"The governor showed himself to be not only knowledgeable
but specific on the issues, especially on foreign affairs," Missouri
Sen. Jim Talent said.
McCain's handlers were even more enthusiastic in talking
about the former POW and his own passionate vow to chase after Osama
"John McCain has committed to leaving no stone unturned in
fighting terrorism," said former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, the
country's first Homeland Security secretary. "As he said in the debate,
he will follow bin Laden to the gates of hell."
The only awkward moment in the Spin Room came when the
sensitive issue close to Nancy Reagan's heart - support of embryonic
stem cell research - came up. Moderator Chris Mathews had raised the
subject with each candidate during the debate.
Only McCain pledged his unqualified support.
that come back to haunt the other candidates?" spin-meister Simon said
rhetorically to the question in the Spin Room. "I wouldn't think so."
Meanwhile, away in the dining area, guess who Nancy Reagan saved the biggest hug for.