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The Making of the President: John McCain
Comments () | Published February 1, 2007
general election because of his appeal to swing voters.” But the numbers McInturff was getting in mid-2008 were nowhere near that. McCain was barely staying ahead.

The trouble was that Edwards and Obama were photogenic, articulate, passionate, vigorous, and young. And it was more than that: The nation was tired of old wars and scared of new ones. Edwards, aside from championing universal healthcare, increased taxes on the rich, and other Democratic oldies-but-goodies, was vigorously antiwar. Edwards’s biggest applause line was the one he tried out on the day he announced and had used in every speech since: “It’s time for us to ask Americans to be patriotic about something other than war.”

Going into October, the race was tied. And then came the day that once was known as Halloween and forever afterward was called 10/31.

Timothy Roop, 58, was overweight, nearsighted, and a jewelry salesman. Nobody had ever accused him of doing anything heroic. When he left work in downtown St. Louis on Halloween night, his sample case was next to him on the front seat of his Chrysler minivan as it always was. Buried inside the case somewhere—under the earrings maybe—was a Smith & Wesson 17-shot Sigma 9mm pistol that he had never used and did not even like to touch. His company required him to take it with him whenever he transported jewelry in his car and had paid the $100 fee that made carrying a concealed weapon legal in Missouri.

He was hurrying home to Clayton so he could relieve his wife of trick-or-treat duty at their front door—Roop loved seeing the kids in their costumes—but he looped past the Gateway Arch on his way home, because he loved how it glistened in the moonlight. It made him proud to be a St. Louisan, proud to be an American.
The blast was heard 30 miles away. A cloud of pulverized concrete rose 100 feet in the air. At the base of each leg, the arch was reinforced concrete in a stainless-steel skin, and now a piece of that skin measuring five feet long and two feet wide came skipping across the grass like a stone skipping on water, slicing off the top of Roop’s Chrysler as neatly as a surgeon’s scalpel would. “How come they don’t make convertible vans?” Roop remembered thinking. Funny, the things that come to your mind preceding a state of panic. But panic was not the same as paralysis in the case of Timothy Roop, and he forced open the van door and staggered out onto the street, clutching by sheer force of habit his sample case.

The rest was a blur: Four figures in ski masks running from the base of the arch, jumping into a waiting car, Roop caught in the high beams as the car fishtailed toward him across the grass. He didn’t remember reaching into his sample case and fumbling for the gun. He didn’t remember tearing off his thumbnail switching off the safety catch, but he remembered the shots he fired directly into the headlights. The gun jammed after the fourth round (Roop had not cleaned it in ten years), but the fourth shot entered the hood of the car, ricocheted off the engine block, went through the windshield, entered the driver’s head just under the chin, and buried itself into his brain. The car veered sharply to the left, struck a tree, and came to rest.

The US Park Police were only seconds behind it, quickly surrounding the car and capturing the remaining terrorists. The police also almost shot Timothy Roop, who was still standing there as if rooted in place, his smoking 9mm in one hand and his dangling sample case in the other. “Don’t shoot,” Roop shouted, “I sell jewelry!” (He would later admit on The Late Show With David Letterman that this didn’t really make any sense to him, either.)
Then, with the smoke and concrete dust clearing, they all stared at the arch, impossibly still suspended in the air even though its southern leg now no longer touched the ground, six feet of steel and concrete having been blown away. It was a tribute to the architectural genius of Eero Saarinen or to the power of God—take your pick. (St. Louis would never repair the arch, preferring to leave it as a symbol of the indomitable spirit of the American heartland. The elevator rides to the top were, of course, discontinued. When the prairie winds were high, the arch would vibrate like a tuning fork and emit a low, ghostly tone. Every few years scientists would publish articles in journals proving that the arch could not stay up on one leg, just as bumblebees could not fly and curve balls were an optical illusion.)

Though the nation was stunned—there was no loss of American lives this time, but terrorists had struck deep inside the country—the political upside to McCain was obvious. Not only was he running as a strong, mature leader who could protect the nation, but his progun stance now seemed more justified than ever by the actions of America’s newest action hero, Timothy Roop.

The public was told nothing about who the terrorists were except that, to the dismay of the Minutemen guarding the Mexican border, they had entered the United States from Canada.

Two days after 10/31, as it was now universally called, House speaker Nancy Pelosi went on Meet the Press and told Tim Russert that she intended to launch a congressional investigation into this “October surprise” and find out whether the Bush administration was complicit in the attack in an attempt to boost the chances of John McCain.

When John Edwards and Barack Obama heard that, they emitted their own low, ghostly tone.

McCain carried every state George W. Bush had carried in 2004 plus California, Minnesota, and New Hampshire. Democrats actually picked up seats in the House and Senate, as if Americans were sending the message that they wanted a Republican president to protect them but with a Democratic Congress to restrain him.

McCain had little time to celebrate. He dropped out of sight after his victory rally—dealing with a little laryngitis, his staff had told reporters when he was absent at his news conference the next morning—and was secretly flown by presidential jet from Arizona to Washington through a teeth-rattling thunderstorm that had closed commercial airports up and down the East Coast. McCain dozed off as soon as he buckled in but awakened to find his fellow passengers gripping their armrests in terror as the plane hurtled through the thunderclouds and great flashes of lightning lit the interior. He had personally crashed four planes, he told them, and knew whereof he spoke. “Don’t worry,” he said. “Nothing is going to happen. I’m going to die in bed.” Then he went back to sleep.

Early in the morning, President-elect McCain found himself in the White House Situation Room in the West Wing basement, watching a sound-and-light show being put on by the national-security adviser.

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Posted at 12:00 AM/ET, 02/01/2007 RSS | Print | Permalink | Washingtonian.com Articles