Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Don’t try to pass a salt shaker to John McCain. He won’t take it from your hand because it’s bad luck.

The Arizona senator also won’t throw a hat on a bed — it means death will soon visit the household — but he regularly carries 31 cents in lucky change in his pocket.

Now the presumptive Republican presidential nominee has converted his staff to his famously superstitious ways. Whenever anyone says something optimistic — especially about this fall’s general election — a slew of staffers join him in knocking on wood.

“That’s an ugly habit I’ve picked up myself,” Brooke Buchanan, the senator’s national press secretary, said with a laugh. “We were in Kansas City … and someone mentioned winning in November, and three of us knocked on wood. We don’t want to jinx anything. We’re all very superstitious people.”

Top adviser Mark Salter also has been influenced.

“I grew a beard in 2000 and didn’t shave until the campaign was over, and I did it this time, too. That’s my little superstition. I probably won’t shave it until November,” he said, adding that he’s not sure if Mr. McCain “considers it lucky, or if he considers it an eyesore.”

Mr. McCain has dozens of superstitions and rituals, many stemming from his days as a Navy fighter pilot, a notoriously superstitious bunch. He carries a lucky feather, a lucky compass and a lucky penny — not to mention a lucky nickel and a lucky quarter.

“He had so many of them that we had to cut down. It was like a change purse in his pocket,” Miss Buchanan said, laughing.

Joseph W. McQuaid, publisher of the Union Leader newspaper of Manchester, N.H., gave Mr. McCain a lucky penny he’d found (heads up, of course) just before Mr. McCain won the New Hampshire primary, on Jan. 8.

Mr. McCain also pocketed a nickel he found outside his hotel in Columbia, S.C., just before that state’s primary — his second primary win.

As for the quarter, “I think he just found that on the ground,” Miss Buchanan said. “It’s always what he finds, heads up.”

Still, it’s what she called “a lucky drummer boy quarter” — a 1976 bicentennial commemorative quarter.

He doesn’t have a dime — a lucky one, that is — but he almost picked up one in January. When he went to the Republican debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Mr. McCain noticed a shiny dime on the stage floor. He stooped for a closer look, but it was tails up — rejected.

“The Irish have a thing about heads and tails,” said Catherine Yronwode, co-founder of the Lucky Mojo Curio Co. and an authority on talismans. “People of Irish descent think that if a coin is heads up, it’s lucky; if it’s tails up, leave it, let the poor have it.”

Irish, indeed. On St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago, “this guy had a lucky four-leaf clover that was laminated,” Miss Buchanan said. “He pulled it out of his pocket and told the senator it had brought him good luck, and now the senator carries it around in his wallet.”

“Am I superstitious? I’m that,” Mr. McCain said. “But I don’t think I’m alone there.”

Especially among his staff.

“I’ve always been superstitious as well, like, I hate the number 13,” Miss Buchanan said.

Oddly, the campaign’s headquarters is on the 13th floor of a high rise in the Crystal City neighborhood of Arlington, even though the elevator button says “M.”

“Why did you have to bring that up? It is the M floor, the M floor, for McCain!” Miss Buchanan said.

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