Jeff Jardine

Once again, Modesto area shunned by Oval Office campaigners

Arizona Republican and presidential candidate Sen. John McCain visits Modesto looking for support in 2007. Appearing with him are, from left, Curtis Hill, sheriff of San Benito County; Jeff Denham; and Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin.
Arizona Republican and presidential candidate Sen. John McCain visits Modesto looking for support in 2007. Appearing with him are, from left, Curtis Hill, sheriff of San Benito County; Jeff Denham; and Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin. Modesto Bee file

The presidential campaign finally arrived in the Valley, and no, Bernie Sanders didn’t come to Modesto. No plans for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump to visit, either.

Candidates for the Oval Office rarely make it to town, and when they do, they usually aren’t the frontrunners at the time.

The last big push? John McCain in 2007. He came to Modesto with a minimal entourage, trailing in the early polls and on the heels of a big fundraiser for former New York Gov. Rudy Giuliani in Hughson the day before. Candidates came here so rarely that Mark Pazin, Merced County’s sheriff at the time, joked that he could now believe in Bigfoot because if he could actually see a presidential candidate in the Valley, there was an outside chance Sasquatch existed as well. And two candidates here in two days? That, by our standards, was mind-numbing.

McCain met with some business types, law enforcement officials and now Rep. Jeff Denham upstairs in a downtown restaurant. Then he walked across the street to Courthouse Park for a news conference in which there were more media facing him than supporters backing him. When he emerged from the restaurant – then Dewz and now where Firken & Fox is located, I must have been the first person he saw when he walked out the door. He walked over, extended his hand and asked my name and affiliation. We chatted as we crossed I Street to Courthouse Park. I remember thinking to myself, “Too bad. Decent guy, but he’s got no chance at the nomination.”

Yeah, right. A few months earlier, Giuliani had a huge lead in the polls and McCain’s campaign seemed in trouble at No. 2. Giuliani met with more big-money contributors at the Duarte home on Sunday, caught the weak Sunday TV news cycle and didn’t get much exposure out of it.

McCain might have had the smaller support group, but he scored on the Internet; in the newspapers; and the 5 p.m., 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. TV news cycles.

Soon, Giuliani began to plummet; the GOP’s right-leaners felt he was too liberal. McCain was more aligned with the party’s base, by comparison. By January 2008, Giuliani had dropped out and McCain was on his way to the nomination. Did his Modesto stop make an impact? Why not? Anything to be politically relevant, right?

Likeable and accessible, McCain made some friends that morning in Modesto. He brought a quiet dignity to the race – something this year’s campaign is missing after the bloody cullings of the Republican side with Donald Trump outlasting Ted Cruz, John Kasich and several others. And on the Democratic side, the once-amicable debates between frontrunner Clinton and socialist Sanders have turned ugly as well.

McCain, with Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin brought in as his running mate to appease the party hardliners, lost decidedly to Barack Obama in November 2008.

Palin in 2010 came to speak at California State University, Stanislaus, with her usual buzz of controversy, but as a paid speaker and not as a candidate.

Thus, McCain’s visit to Modesto that warm June day nine years ago marked the last time a presidential candidate came to town.

Don’t expect Trump or Clinton to visit. Sanders’ stop Tuesday in Stockton is too late in the game and 30 miles away.

And this might be an election in which Bigfoot gets some write-in votes.

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