PAGE SPRINGS, ARIZ. -- John McCain has been campaigning hard for months and his traveling press corps has been working just as hard in covering him. So, this weekend McCain played host to a handful of senators and governors at his Arizona vacation home and today the press joined the party.
Two shuttle buses rode in with about 40 journalists onto what could be McCain's version of President Bush's Crawford ranch if he wins in November.
As reporters filed in, McCain, who stood by the grill tending to ribs and chicken, shook everybody's hands as they passed. The receiving line continued as Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Gov. Jon Huntsman, R-Utah, and former Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, lounged on McCain's large deck that wrapped around his cabin.
McCain wore a white sweatshirt with a silk-screened family photo on it, sunglasses, a green baseball cap and blue jeans. As grillmaster, he looked like the all-American dad, with a story for every spot in the house. He explained that he loved to grill because it was social. He said it gave him something to do with his nervous energy while everyone could enjoy food and drink.
He shared his recipe for "practically" fat-free ribs. He rubs a salt, pepper and garlic powder mixture onto the ribs along with lemon and cooks them for an hour and a half to allow most of the fat to fall off. Fat-free or not, the ribs lived up to the hype. After three servings, I'm confident in reporting they were succulent and flavorful.
Our invitation to the barbecue came with restrictions. It began as an on-the-record gathering, then shifted to an off-the-record event. McCain staffers say they wanted to allow the event to be more of a social than a work event. In the end, it was back on-the-record but no video or audio equipment was allowed. Most people adhered to these rules but a few audio recorders made their way in. A handful of reporters stood next to McCain with notepads in hand, unwilling to let this story go by unreported.
After McCain greeted reporters he continually turned meat on the grill and offered pieces as they became ready. He politely explained that he wasn't doing interviews but that didn't stop the crowd from standing around the grill taking photos and asking questions. He even told reporters to walk around and take a look at the place, but after he realized the press wasn't going to leave him alone, he took them on a walk instead.
McCain led a dozen reporters around as he carried tongs and a knife in his hands. The first stop was to a blackhawk's nest where he said he once watched a mother teach her baby bird how to fly.
The décor of McCain's house had a southwest flavor. Navajo rugs don the walls and floors. Well worn couches and chairs furnish the lower level of his home, which has exposed brick, wooden door frames, and paneling. In one room, political cartoons of McCain from the 2000 election cover the walls.
Cindy McCain decorated most of the other walls in the home with family photos, and drawings and paintings by their children.
We ate at tables along a creek that ran past his house. Beef tamales, hamburgers, sausages, potato salad and pastas were on the menu in addition to McCain's grilled chicken and ribs. The McCain's have two dogs, Coco and Sam, who tag-teamed each table during dinner looking for scraps.
We munched on brownies, cookies and cake for dessert. For McCain the icing on the cake will be clinching the GOP nomination next week.
If that happens, McCain and his press corps can expect a change. Increased security could limit their unfettered access and intimate gatherings and McCain's barbecue ribs could be off the menu.