Machen publicly endorses McCain
Published: Monday, January 21, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 20, 2008 at 11:18 p.m.
University of Florida President Bernie Machen told The Sun in an exclusive interview Sunday that he was endorsing U.S. Sen. John McCain in the Jan. 29 presidential primary.
"This was a personal announcement, and it has nothing to do with the University of Florida," Machen said. "I have known Sen. McCain for a number of years and have long had respect for him. I just decided it was something I was very sure about and would make my own statement about."
It is fairly unusual for university presidents to endorse politicians, according to Margaret Conway, UF professor emeritus of political science.
"I'm astonished," Conway said, who specializes in American politics, especially political behavior. "It's not the sort of thing university presidents usually do. They don't get involved in politics except for lobbying for their university or charitable causes."
She said the risk is losing the support of that position if an alternate candidate is elected.
Michael Martinez, also a political science professor at UF, said Machen will be more shielded from that type of risk since he is endorsing a national candidate, rather than a state candidate.
"It is a bit unusual," Martinez said, who specializes in political behavior. "I don't think I've seen it at my years here or at other universities."
"The benefit can be that when a university president can connect his feelings about the candidate to his areas of perceived expertise - in this case Machen and education - it would put McCain in the thought process so that people who haven't made up their mind might think about McCain a little bit more."
University of South Florida political science professor Susan MacManus said Machen's decision to publicly endorse a candidate is something many university presidents choose to avoid, partly because of efforts to support bipartisanship within the university. She said university presidents also have to worry about where their budgets come from, and whether a political endorsement could put them into a political bind with the state legislature or governor. "I think increasingly as the job of university president is getting more political you are starting to see a trend of people being a little bolder," MacManus said.
MacManus said it's possible that this presidential race could produce more endorsements by university leaders.
"It depends a lot on how strongly they believe in their own political beliefs and how secure they are in their own jobs that they don't have to worry about political repercussions," she said.
McCain, R-Arizona, is arriving in Florida today and will campaign in the state until the primary next Tuesday, including a stop in Gainesville on Jan. 27 for a political rally, said Melissa Shuffield, spokeswoman for McCain.
Details about the Gainesville event were not available Sunday evening.
"President Machen is one of America's most distinguished leaders in education, and I am proud to have his support," said McCain in a written statement. "I admire his accomplishments at the University of Florida and his devotion to the next generation of Americans. President Machen's advice and counsel will be critical as we work toward victory in Florida on January 29th."
McCain, who some had counted out of the political race prior to winning New Hampshire, is coming to Florida riding a victory in South Carolina on Saturday.
"I have been a supporter of his for a number of years," Machen said. "Somehow I felt that he was never out of it, just knowing him and how he approaches things."
Machen said he was most impressed with McCain's ability to take stances that were not necessarily popular but that in his opinion were the right thing to do. He said he particularly supports McCain's immigration policy. The Arizona senator has tried to pass broad immigration reform but was met with resistance from fellow republicans.
McCain's Web site now calls for securing the American borders.
McCain also takes a hard stance on pork-barreling, or tacking on money grants to larger bills that pass through Congress.
"Year after year, powerful members of Congress divert taxpayer dollars to special interest pet projects with little or no national value," McCain's Web site says.
Machen said he is also in support of this expenditure reform - along with the Association of American Universities - saying that government spending should be competitive and based on merit.
"The problem is it's hard to stop it," Machen said.
Universities across the nation are sometimes the beneficiaries of these earmarkings.
Machen recently returned from a trip to Washington, D.C., on business for the University of Florida, and said that trip had nothing to do with his endorsement, adding that you won't find McCain in Washington during peak political season.
He said he met McCain in 2004 when he was in Gainesville for a convocation. "My relationship is just cordial. We've met at several functions, and we've just sort of periodically dropped notes to one another," Machen said.
He said that most university presidents do not endorse candidates. "I just felt like this was the right time and he was the right candidate," Machen said. "I told him I didn't know if it was worth anything. I hope it helps him. I have no idea if it will."
At the very least, Martinez said it could increase turnout for any events McCain holds in Gainesville. "It might peak some of the interests in getting people to come out to the event," Martinez said. "Although presidential candidates have drawn well in the past."
Martinez said President George Bush and Sens. John Kerry and John Edwards came to Gainesville in 2004, and in 1992 Bill Clinton and other nominees stopped in the city.
Megan Rolland can be reached at 338-3104 or megan.rolland@ gvillesun.com.
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