A former governor and chairman of the U.S. Olympic Committee. A former U.S. attorney credited with squashing the mob in New York City and later mayor of the nation’s largest city. A former Navy pilot and prisoner of war who is currently a U.S. senator. A senator from Kansas, an Arkansas governor, congressmen from California, Colorado and Texas, a former Wisconsin governor, a former governor of Virginia and now, add to the list of Republican candidates for the presidency in 2008 a 1980 graduate of Effingham County High School.
Ray McKinney, now a Savannah resident, has joined the race, throwing his hat in with Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, Sam Brownback, Mike Huckabee, Duncan Hunter, Tom Tancredo, Ron Paul, Tommy Thompson and Jim Gilmore.
“I can do this,” McKinney said. “This job doesn’t scare me.”
The others in the crowded Republican field — not to mention the number of Democrats vying for their party’s nomination — are seasoned, career politicians. McKinney thinks that actually plays into his favor.
“People are sick of it,” he said. “People are tired of the wrangling and the earmarks.
“The energy bill passed in the House is ridiculous, and they know it.”
Political novice, and proud of it
Experience really isn’t necessary to get people to listen, according to McKinney. He pointed to the popularity of Sen. Barack Obama’s candidacy. Obama is in his first term as a U.S. senator, having been elected in 2004.
“I’m not a politician. I’m one of you,” he said. “I know the cost of a gallon of milk. I know what those issues mean.”
McKinney met last week with the Georgia GOP hierarchy, who put him through the paces starting at 6:45 a.m. handling phone calls and vetting his positions on the issues.
“They said, ‘You took a step most people don’t do,’” he recalled.
McKinney, who turned 45 on June 20, is a nuclear services manager for Continental Field Systems in Savannah and was voted “most likely to become a nuclear scientist” when he was at ECHS, he said. He sees his business experience as a plus.
“I started out at the ground level,” he said. “Now, customers fly me in to look at a problem and work on solutions.”
Also playing in his favor, McKinney believes, is the public’s resentment toward politics in the nation’s capital.
“I know how to solve problems,” he said. “I know how to build a team, how to identify a problem, how to find a solution and implement it. Washington is just the opposite, and people are fed up with it.”
Voter base turned off
That disenchantment has shown up in straw polls in Iowa, he said, and was reflected in the election numbers from 2002 and 2006.
“Right now, you look at the data from the Iowa caucus. They just do not like the field,” he said. “I went to Florida and they do not like the field. They’re concerned.”
McKinney cited poll numbers from the 2002 and 2006 elections, with the Democrats dropping 600,000 votes in 2002 but Republicans losing 11 million votes from 2002-2006.
“Donations are down,” he said. “People are not happy.”
Poll numbers in Washington state show McKinney getting a more favorable reaction than Romney, McKinney said.
“When you beat Mitt Romney, that’s a little bit to say, even though I’ve never campaigned in Washington state,” he said.
Grassroots and online
While most of the other candidates carry around recognizable names and swelling war chests of donations, McKinney’s campaign is relying on the new wave of campaigning combined with old-style groundswell. His campaign workers are all volunteers and he contrasted that with the campaigns of the more well-known contestants.
His Web site, www.ray2008.com, has gotten 27,000 hits in four weeks, and McKinney is hoping to enlist the help of bloggers to spread his message.
“People are looking,” he said. “We’re building up a network of bloggers and asking to link to them.”
But getting his name out there will also require more traditional methods, and McKinney already has done television interviews and conference calls.
“Quite honestly, it’s going to be media attention,” he said. “We’re slowly getting the message out.”
McKinney also said the news media needs to focus on more than the top few candidates.
“Who decides the top tier? The media does,” he said. “But they are not doing the voting. We deserve to look at the issues.”
Some old-fashioned campaigning awaits McKinney, and he plans to hit the pavement across the country talking to voters.
“I’ll hit Mom and Pop diners all around the country,” he said.
A change in focus
McKinney decided to run for office about two months ago and initially got notoriety when he announced he was running for vice president. But he looked into it further and unlike running separately for lieutenant governor, running for vice president requires being on a ticket. So he decided to set his sights a little higher than the No. 2 office.
“I don’t think anyone’s going to vote for me for vice president,” he said. “I researched it, and there’s no way I can run for vice-president. The last couple of weeks, a lot of my supporters said I had to run for president.”
What hasn’t changed is his platform. “My stances are still the same,” he said.
The party leaders have been receptive to his candidacy and his ideas, even if McKinney was at first skeptical of how he would be welcomed. He’s been invited to take part in a December debate in Florida and to the Florida GOP convention three days before that state’s presidential primary. He’s also the first one to get on the ballot in Florida.
McKinney, who moved to the area when he was in the fourth grade, got his start in the working world pumping gas in Rincon.
“We came up the hard way,” he said. “I’ve never let that hold me back.”