July 22nd, 2007
12:10 PM ET
11 years ago

McCain loses key South Carolina supporter

McCain lost a key supporter in South Carolina

CHARLESTON, South Carolina (CNN) - After a two week political freefall, Sen. John McCain received welcome news late this week when a new CNN poll showed he still maintained strong Republican support in South Carolina, a crucial Southern state with an early primary.

The senator from Arizona was standing firm despite an implosion that has temporarily crippled his presidential campaign.

But if the one-time frontrunner hopes to re-energize his presidential bid, he is going to have to convince the likes of Cyndi Mosteller that he is the only candidate who can keep the White House in Republican hands.

Mosteller, a former chairwoman of the Charleston County Republican Party, is a true grassroots activist who is willing to speak her mind and defend her candidate from attacks and criticism by opponents.

She was a vocal advocate for McCain in South Carolina during the 2000 presidential contest when supporters of then-Texas Gov. George Bush effectively derailed his bid to win the South Carolina primary.

This time, with McCain now appearing at his weakest, McCain won't have Mosteller to defend him. She is waiting for former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee to formally enter the race.

"My intentions are at this point, when he becomes a candidate, I am going to support him," Mosteller said in an interview Friday in her office, which is just steps away from a sweeping view of the Ravenel Bridge.

The former county chairwoman said she holds no animosity toward McCain, and still describes him in glowing terms.

"He is one of the most honest and strong Americans on the floor of the U.S. Senate," Mosteller said.

It was not the recent revelations of financial mismanagement in the McCain campaign or his successful push for campaign finance reform - opposed by many of her like-minded social conservatives - that caused her to part ways with him.

Mosteller said her decision to back one of McCain's potential rivals came down to his support for immigration reform.

"I see it as a national security issue," she said. And Mosteller predicted that other McCain backers who oppose his stand on immigration also will turn away from McCain to support Thompson.

Two weeks ago, Mosteller said she co-hosted a meeting at a downtown Charleston hotel for more than 30 Republicans interested in backing Thompson.

The group consisted of people already backing McCain and several of the social conservative candidates in the race such as Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and California Rep. Duncan Hunter.

"He (Thompson) sweeps up a lot of support of the second tier candidates," she said, and added, "People who disagree with McCain on immigration will go to Thompson."

While McCain has been under fire for months from conservatives for his stand on immigration, Mosteller said it was not until the legislation started moving toward the Senate floor did she understand the details of what critics described as "amnesty" for illegal aliens already living in the United States.

"I think John McCain thought it would be seen by the American people as a strong American bill," she said. "But I think many people came to feel it was an abandonment of America's first principle to protect itself."

Thompson's own conservative credentials have come under scrutiny since billing records revealed he consulted a pro-abortion rights group during his time as a lobbyist in the early 1990s.

A Thompson spokesman told CNN last week that Thompson "has no recollection of doing work on behalf of this group."

The spokesman added: "It is not unusual for a lawyer, when asked by a colleague, to provide counsel or assistance when asked, including on matters on which they personally disagree."

For Mosteller, who is a vocal anti-abortion rights advocate, Thompson's previous work for the pro-abortion rights group is not enough to disqualify him as an appealing candidate to social conservatives. She pointed to his solid anti-abortion rights voting record in the Senate as evidence of his socially conservative beliefs.

"He was taking a case," she said. "In that scenario, Fred Thompson was advocating for a client, not a cause."

Even though she is no longer backing McCain, Mosteller noted that in the very least he deserves respect from South Carolinians for standing by President Bush on two unpopular issues - the Iraq war and immigration - even though she personally disagrees with him on the latter.

"John McCain has been maligned for not being supportive of the president," she said, alluding to the lingering resentment of McCain by Bush supporters following the bitter 2000 presidential primary.

"He should be given credit for standing with the president and going to the wall on the issues of Iraq and immigration," she said.

As Mosteller was breaking away from McCain, the GOP senator's campaign was working to reassure supporters that he remains focused on the presidential race.

In an internal strategy memo, the McCain campaign described South Carolina as their "best organized state, and one that will reward his steadfast position on Iraq."

His campaign also claimed that his chief rivals for the GOP nomination all have their own problems in the state.

McCain placed a respectable second place - behind Rudy Giuliani - in CNN's latest poll on South Carolina, conducted by Opinion Research Corporation. However, the survey it also contained troubling news for the senator. Thirty-four percent of Republican primary voters said they would not support McCain "under any circumstances" in his bid for the White House.
Would a change of heart on immigration help McCain with South Carolina voters such as Mollester? Perhaps, but the one-time McCain supporter predicts it will never happen.

"I think John McCain will not change because ... he is so principled," she said, with a hint of admiration in her tone.

- CNN Political Editor Mark Preston

Filed under: John McCain • South Carolina
soundoff (18 Responses)
  1. McCain-in-4

    Another Republican supporter who believes bottle-necking illegal immigrants will "fix the problem". The end result is creating a pressure-cooker situaton on our borders, where immigrants are scared into never leaving our borders.

    July 22, 2007 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  2. erika morgan black dimond wa

    I am an Independent from Washington who once had enormous respect for McCain's ability to think on his feet and would certainly have voted for a coalition ticket Kerry/McCain. However lately with his blind following of the Bush/Cheney's deluded and misguided policies he has proved to me that his age is befuddling his brain; it reminds me that really age 40 is the "top of the game" age for these guys and it is all down hill after that. The executive branch, of the US, needs to be at its "peak of performance"; these old guys can be advisors as they are in the private sector and their wisdom can be invaluable. However the nimble thinking and ability to be flexible, and accept and reasonably evaluate any innovations and new ideas, and to change course as the situation changes, seems to be lost once the individual has pigeonholed what he has figured out works for him. These folks have begun to crystalize and they think the world around them is also static rather then, the whole new discovery that each sunrise brings to the younger more curious and more naive leader.

    July 22, 2007 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  3. Michelle

    I've been a McCain hopeful/supporter for number of years but he is no longer the candidate that he used to be. Mosteller is right, he is still honest and principled but that seems to remain in the Senate because he appears to be more interested in centrist stances (republican immigration issue aside).

    He was going to be the maverick that brought the Republican party back to from the far right edge. He was going to be the candidate who told the truth and followed his convictions. Sadly his time has come and gone. He's a great man and an American hero but the desire to win has let the system get to him.

    However, I'd never drift over to Fred Thompson. I can't even imagine being the same area of the spectrum as him. I wish the far right would leave the Republican party and start their own group. I'd rather lose with the real republican party value than win with candidates that pander to the far right .

    So I'm going to I may not agree with everything Ron Paul says but I know he surely will not be pandering to anyone and that he will not compromise his views at all. I know what he stands for and I know he's rather lose than change them. That's the kind of integrity I'm looking for now in a candidate. He's a very longshot I know but at least someone remembers the origin on this party.

    I'd still vote for McCain in a general election over any of the democrats but for the first time in my life, I won't vote for the party candidate if it is Thompson. I'll write in Ron Paul in that case.

    July 22, 2007 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  4. LR, Pa.

    It may be Alzheimers McCain and Thompson suffer from!! Both have lost it!

    July 22, 2007 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  5. Sharon Jenson Atonville, Ca

    Thompson? How is he any better? Sorry McCain, I guess there are just too many Americans against the war now than there once were. Maybe try shutting up about the war & change your strategy.

    At this point I almost feel sorry for Republicans; there's no one for them to vote for.

    Thompson used to advocate for allowing abortion consultation; now he has changed his mind and is publically against abortion. He's taking a very old strategy, used in 2000, and trying to use it today:

    Align with the religious, (just those who are the brainwashed enough to believe that an embryo is a human being) to collect votes you cannot possibly get from an educated, up-to-date, concerned American.

    Instead, we believe those who reside in Iraq ARE actually human beings, and should not be killed for what McCain, Bush, and the rest of the greedy politicians refer to as our "vested interest" in Iraq; {aka: OIL} Hurry and pump the oil guys, have you seen our deficit?

    Let's let this man waste his time, and the money of those blind, yet faithful ones who actually believe any greedy Republican would make Roe -v- Wade a priority once in the white house, when there are far too many ways to profit from war once elected.

    Well Thompson, Hitler once said, "It is always more difficult to fight against faith than against knowledge."

    Hitler also said, "What good fortune for governments that the people do not think."

    Wow - go WITH faith, and pray that Americans have no new knowledge since 2000. We'll see where that gets you in 2008.

    Sharon Jenson

    July 22, 2007 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  6. nikhilkumar

    Well, here we go again! haven't we seen this kinda rat race before? hollow promises and high hopes...

    July 22, 2007 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  7. Annie Mt., Hockessin, DE

    I have supported Sen. McCain since 2000 - I won't be dissuaded at this crossroads. I will continue to applaud his stance believing that his experience, knowledge and true patriotism will win over the voters. We live in a dangerous world and in unsettled times. I cannot think of a man who would better lead our country through these difficulties. He is a strong leader who possesses the ability to take a position that may not be popular and take the time to explain his view of it. Sen. McCain, you have my trust and belief in this candidacy. Please restore this country to prosperity, integrity and vision.

    July 22, 2007 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  8. Darrell Sunvold Minnesota

    Senator McCain is basically done. He supports amnesty and full fledge support of leaving the troups in Iraq. American is watching very closely the voting record of ALL Legislatures and I truly believe that there will be many Senator and Congressmen losing their seats.

    July 22, 2007 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  9. Polly Armer Carmel Indiana

    John McCain is the best man for the job. No one is perfect but McCain has an honorable past and a proven love for our country. Working with his new manager Rick Davis, I am sure they can turn this around. Older but wiser works for me and it ain't over till its over....Go McCain!

    July 22, 2007 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  10. Jean, New York, NY

    The thing that people fail to realize is that polls do not win elections. It is too early to tell what the outcome of the primaries will be until votes are cast. (remember Dean). Not one candidate that is current on the field has a 30% standing, you cant win a primary with that little support. I think people are just buying their time to see what happens.

    McCain should stand firm until then. I would remain confident that he would be a viable candidate.

    Of course, he has made some mistakes with trying to guide bush policies but he is not the decision maker here, the president is.

    The other candidates do not have the responsibilities and profile that McCain has , they are just on the sidelines saying what the public wants to here without the consequences.

    You think if he was president we would be in the same situation, I surely don't think we would be.

    I feel that McCain is a leader that is feared by the right wing establishment in as much that he is an independent leader and thinker. He is principled and has the experience to be president.

    I do not understand how the media is just trying to steer this election and put the democrats in a stronger position to win.

    July 22, 2007 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  11. Sharon Jenson Atonville, Ca

    McCain may be patriotic, but so am I.

    Since when was it anti-patriotic to want a President who will look after OUR issues, not those of a country who poses no threat?

    Seriously, I truly in my heart of hearts cannot understand why ANYONE would even consider this man for President.

    Still, there are a few of you left. For you I offer some advice: DO SOME RESEARCH, READ, LEARN.

    July 22, 2007 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  12. Anonymous

    I think McCain is dead meat! I am a a registered democrat and have always voted as such. But, at one time, several years ago, I admirede McCain and considered him as the only Republican I would even consider voting for. (Maybe it is because I am also a Vietnam Vet?) But, when he hitched his star to the Bush war, and has supported it to the hilt, I lost all respect for him! I would not consider voting for him under any circumstances. He is dead!

    July 22, 2007 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  13. Earl Umfleet Sumner, Ill

    The first time John McCain ran for president, I would have voted for him. Since then, however, he has turned into another bull dog. He gets a hold of a way, situation or hair brained idea and will not let go of it. Now I would not vote for him if he was running for dog catcher.

    July 22, 2007 05:10 pm at 5:10 pm |
  14. an american patriot

    I respect the fact McCain was a POW but that doesn't mean he'd make a good president. It's a well known fact the man has a terrible temper and anger issues. He tries to come on as soft spoken and calm and repeats "my friends" but he's a walking time bomb. Just what we need?

    He also wants ALOT more troops in Iraq...hello draft! Don't forget 2000 and the way he kissed up to Bush and continues to. I see right through this man and consider him another disaster.

    July 22, 2007 07:40 pm at 7:40 pm |
  15. c

    jon is done. there is no way when you support amnesty and the war in iraq even more than bush does that you will broaden your diminishing base of support. can't win, might as well drop out now.

    July 22, 2007 08:44 pm at 8:44 pm |

    I had always admired McCain for his integrity and independence and would have happily voted for a Kerry/McCain ticket. And I have always respected him as a war hero.

    But now he seems to be pandering to the religious right and aligning himself to Bush. He supports this war and wants more troops there. Over 3600 have been killed. My God what is wrong with these people in power!!!

    Is the Iraqi government still taking off the month of August? I haven't seen anything on that for awhile. Too hot for them to work in an airconditioned building while our soldiers are carrying packs, weapons and i don't know what else, risking their lives in that same heat!!! My God, that Iraqi government really has some BIG BRASS ONES!!!

    July 22, 2007 09:18 pm at 9:18 pm |
  17. Jeff, Houston, Texas

    I am not a supporter of John McCain; I could never support anyone who embraces what the Republican Party has become. However, I do belive this man has given a great deal to his country, and I do feel kind of sad to see him in this position. I wish there was something that could be done to ease this embarrasing situation with the class he deserves.

    July 23, 2007 09:21 am at 9:21 am |
  18. Anonymous

    Who is Mosteller? I could care less about McCain or Mosteller. Ron Paul in '08

    July 23, 2007 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |