In a little-noticed interview in October 2006, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-SD, talked a great deal about his recollections of negotiations with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to become a Democrat.
The conversation is interesting in light of McCain’s shift to the right on some issues as he pursued the GOP presidential nomination, but also Daschle’s praise for McCain as someone capable of real bipartisan cooperation.
Interestingly, both Daschle and the journalist doing the questioning — Linda Douglass — are now with the Obama campaign.
Douglass points out that the Senate was at the time "divided 50/50. And you were, both sides, both parties, trying to woo people from the other party to come over so that you one of you would have the majority. And ultimately you did succeed in– Jim Jeffords, the Republican from Vermont did cross over and become and independent, which gave you the majority. You were talking at least at the staff level to John McCain in those days. How interested do you think he was in becoming a Democrat? Do you think he seriously considered it?"
DASCHLE: I do. Oh, it was more than — we were talking to John, personally and very directly and privately on several occasions. And we thought that at one point that he would be the more likely of the three people. We were also talking to Lincoln Chaffee and Jim Jeffords, of course. And so Jim kind of surprised us one day when he called and asked us to meet him secretly at 6 o’clock in the morning in his hideaway to discuss how we might do this. We had open minds and quite a bit of communication with the other two. John McCain was very angry at George Bush for the way he was treated in the primary campaigns and his anger and his frustration with the Bush political machine was a big motivation. We talked a lot about his conservative views on abortion and on some of the social issues and how much of an impediment that would be. But he was very, very interested for awhile. And it was an interesting series of discussions and conversations with him.
DOUGLASS: So you think he came close to switching parties?
DASCHLE: I think so.
DOUGLASS: Even though there was a philosophical disagreement, you, and you think it was because of the way he was treated in the primary by the Bush people? Or do you think that there was a certain comfort level with the Democrats that would be sufficient for him to cross over? Did he communicate that to you?
DASCHLE: Well, John worked well with us. I mean there were so many occasions when we would work on legislation together. He would look for a prominent Democrat to work with on a number of things, whether it was campaign reform or, now its climate change.
But over the years, it was it was commonly understood that if you wanted a Republican partner, John was one of the people you could often times talk to. We all had a good friendship with him, so it transcended politics. It, he is truly somebody who could work both sides of the aisle and has great friends and relationships with people on both sides. So the personal relationships, I think, created the environment where you could actually talk about doing something professionally or politically. Then add to that the frustration that he had especially towards Bush and that first year following the presidential election and he had the right mix for at least the possibility of serious negotiations.