McCain Reverses Himself on Affirmative Action

ABC News, July 27, 2008

ABC News’ Teddy Davis and Kevin Kilbane Report: During a “This Week” interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos John McCain reversed himself on affirmative action and endorsed for the first time a proposed state ballot measure which would end race and gender-based affirmative action in his home state of Arizona.

“I support it,” McCain declared when asked about the referendum. “I do not believe in quotas. . . . I have not seen the details of some of these proposals. But I’ve always opposed quotas.”

McCain has long opposed quotas but his new support for ending affirmative action programs which stop short of quotas puts him at odds not only with Democratic rival Barack Obama but also with the Arizona senator’s own views in 1998.

Back then, when the legislature in McCain’s home state of Arizona considered sending the voters a measure to end affirmative action, McCain spoke out against it calling it “divisive.”

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McCain’s critics on the left charge that he has changed his position on affirmative action in order to shore up his support among conservatives.

“This is clearly an election-year flip flop and a pander to a skeptical right-wing base,” said John Kraus, spokesman for the liberal Ballot Initiative Strategy Center. “He has put politics first on this issue. There is no other way around it.”

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Ward Connerly, the affirmative action foe behind the Arizona and other state measures in Nebraska and Colorado, told ABC News last month that McCain was missing an opportunity to draw a sharp contrast with Obama.

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The presumptive Democratic nominee has spoken in favor of developing income-based affirmative action programs. But he also supports maintaining race-based affirmative action programs and has come out against the proposed Arizona ballot measure ending affirmative action. He has also come out against an identical measure which has qualified for the ballot in Colorado as well as one that has been proposed in Nebraska.

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Here is McCain’s exchange with Stephanopoulos:

STEPHANOPOULOS: “Opponents of affirmative action are trying to get a referendum on the ballot here that would do away with affirmative action. Do you support that?”

MCCAIN: “Yes, I do. I do not believe in quotas. But I have not seen the details of some of the proposals. But I’ve always opposed quotas.”

STEPHANOPOULOS: “But the one here in Arizona you support?”

McCAIN: “I support it, yes.”

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