10.15.08

McCain's Auntie Says "He's Losing"

McCain's 96-year-old Aunt Rowena talks to The Daily Beast about press bias and why she gets a kick out of Bill Clinton

“He’s losing,” Rowena Willis, John McCain’s 96-year old aunt said.

Her stark assessment, in an interview with The Daily Beast, echoes that of her identical twin sister Roberta, McCain’s mother, who told a crowd at a campaign rally in Virginia this week to “pray for a miracle.”

Speaking from her home in Los Angeles, Mrs. Willis says her sister has been distraught over her son’s campaign. The twins have been speaking regularly on the phone, trading assessments of the McCain campaign.

Obama "says he wants change, but change to what? Taking money from the rich and giving it to the poor, that’s what it’s going to be."

The vitality of the two sisters despite their advanced age has been the best argument for setting aside any concerns about John McCain’s longevity. The pair traveled to France in 2005, aged 93. When they appeared at the car rental counter only to be told they were too old to rent, they promptly bought a car and set off on their road trip.

Roberta has appeared in ads, given interviews, and spoken at events for the McCain campaign. Far from a sheltered campaign prop, Roberta gained a maverick reputation of her own during the primaries with sharp answers to interviewers’ questions that strayed from her son’s own stated views.

After she told Chris Matthews that Mormons were to blame for scandals surrounding the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics—including Mitt Romney, her son’s campaign rival—her son jumped in to remind the host that her opinions were not necessarily his own.

Like her twin sister McCain’s mother, twice married Rowena Willis is still lucid and outspoken at age 96. She answers questions about her nephew’s chances with a quick wit, poking fun at her blue-blooded background.

“I’m absolutely biased,” she cautioned with a laugh. “I’m a born Episcopalian churchgoing person and very conservative. My parents were and all my relatives were. I guess when you get so one sided you have to be a bit nuts.”

She does have a sneaking regard, however, for the Clintons. “I always get a kick out of old Bill,” she said.

The former wife of a banker, she attributed her nephew’s difficulty in the polls to bias in the press and accused Obama of taking a Robin Hood approach to the economy.

“He says he wants change, but change to what? I don’t know how much money you have, but you’re going to be trouble if they get in. Taking money from the rich and giving it to the poor, that’s what it’s going to be,” she said.

As for Obama’s personal relationships, Willis said she was upset about the lack of attention the press are paying to Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

“He never answers the questions if anyone asks him anything,” she said. “Like the influence of his crazy preacher. When he first came in, he said, ‘Oh, he married our wife,’ and, ‘Oh, he baptized our children.’ And in the meantime [Wright is] saying how bad the United States is,” she said.

“Of course his wife is saying this is the first time I’ve ever been proud of my country. I don’t care what your first name is, American children are born patriotic.”

But Willis said she admires Obama’s personal achievements. “I compliment Obama for really succeeding in taking advantage of things that have been offered to him,” she said, pointing to his time in school in Hawaii and at Harvard.

Willis described McCain, often criticized by critics for his temper, as “the most forgiving human I’ve ever known in my life.”

“When he got out of that prison, the first time I saw him, I said to John, ‘Don’t you just hate the Vietcong?’ And he said, ‘No, I don’t hate them, I just hate the system that makes them hate me.’ He has no acrimony against anybody and he wouldn’t against the Democrats running against him.”