On the January 25 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, during a report on the importance of Western states in U.S. elections, NBC News correspondent George Lewis aired a quote by Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a senior scholar at the University of Southern California, asserting that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) is “too New York, too elitist, too cold, if you will, to really talk the language of the Intermountain West.”
Lewis aired the quote by Jeffe to back up his assertion that “coming from New York,” Clinton “might have trouble connecting with voters in the smaller Western states.” But Lewis offered no other support for the assertion beyond Jeffe's speculation. The assertion was part of a series of answers to a rhetorical question Lewis posed during the report: “So, which candidates are helped and which ones are hurt by this emphasis on the West?” But Lewis specifically named only Clinton and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson among the Democratic presidential hopefuls. He asserted that “being from the West could help an underdog candidate like ... Richardson” then aired a clip of Richardson saying, “I'm a Westerner; I'm a governor; I've gotten things done.”
Later in the program, discussing the “role” Nevada will play in the elections, Republican strategist Michelle Laxalt claimed that, “in many respects, Senator McCain matches the state to a great degree,” citing as evidence that “Nevadans tend to be a very individualistic group and they are mavericks by nature.” She also said that McCain “matches a lot of the maverick, [former President Ronald] Reagan, [former Sen. Paul] Laxalt [R-NV], individualistic, and civil libertarian in many respects.” Laxalt offered no examples of McCain's purported “civil libertarian[ism]”; he has a lifetime score of only 23 percent from the American Civil Liberties Union.
As Media Matters for America has documented, many media figures, including Matthews, National Journal's The Hotline editor in chief Chuck Todd, and Wall Street Journal national political editor John Harwood, have promoted the perception that McCain is a “maverick” -- a Republican politician willing to oppose the president and his party on major issues. However, Media Matters has documented numerous instances in which McCain has changed his position to support Bush.
From the January 25 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:
LEWIS: So, which candidates are helped and which ones are hurt by this emphasis on the West?
CLINTON: I'm not just starting a campaign, though.
LEWIS: Hillary Clinton, with her well-funded campaign, will be able to buy plenty of TV time in California. But coming from New York, she might have trouble connecting with voters in the smaller Western states.
JEFFE: I'm wondering whether she's, at this point in her career, too New York, too elitist, too cold, if you will, to really talk the language of the Intermountain West.
LEWIS: Conversely, being from the West could help an underdog like New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson.
RICHARDSON: I'm a Westerner; I'm a governor; I've gotten things done.
LEWIS: On the Republican side, Arizona Senator John McCain will also be helped by his Western roots, as this region stands poised to shift the dynamics of the 2008 presidential campaign.
MATTHEWS: You've got an early caucus out here. This state's going to play a big role. Is it going to help McCain, a Westerner? Who's it going to help out here?
LAXALT: I think it's too early to tell. The fact is that Senator McCain is probably a little bit better known there in Nevada. He does live right across the border and he spends a great deal of time in Nevada.
As your other guests indicated, Nevadans tend to be a very individualistic group and they are mavericks by nature. They are not big on big government. They are anti-federal government and, in many respects, Senator McCain matches the state to a great degree. Remember, this is a state second only to the state of Alaska, with nearly 90 percent of all of the entire state is owned by the federal government. So, if you come in as a candidate running for the presidency of either party in the state of Nevada, don't open with “I'm here to tell you that the federal government wants to come in and help you” because they will send you right back out the door. Having worked for Senator Stevens here --
MATTHEWS: Is John McCain the closest -- Michelle, I've got to direct your testimony --
MATTHEWS: -- here a little more to where I want you to go. Is John McCain the Reagan-type guy out here? Does this -- the people out here liked Reagan -- and I know your dad did, best buddies with him -- do the people who like Ronald Reagan historically look to a guy like McCain, war hero, that kind of guy?
LAXALT: I think McCain is very, very comfortable in the state of Nevada, and he matches a lot of the maverick, Reagan, Laxalt, individualistic, and civil libertarian in many respects, and a man who is -- I think he is viewed to be a true Westerner, and he spend a lot of time in Nevada -- and Nevada is still small enough, notwithstanding the fact that it's growing exponentially. They want to see these candidates face-to-face, and they want to look in their eye -- and McCain, they're very familiar with.