Obama: Emil Jones Jr.
You don’t jump from state senator to U.S. senator as quickly as Obama did without some support. Emil Jones Jr., the president of the Illinois state senate and an old gear in Chicago’s political machine, made Obama’s ascension his personal cause, shepherding him through the valley of political peril. The two first met while Obama was a community organizer in Chicago—in fact, Obama was protesting outside of Jones’s office, trying to secure funds for his group. Jones took Obama under his wing when he entered the state senate in 1997, reining in jealous rivals and sending Obama important bills to raise his profile and build his credentials in anticipation of a national Senate run. Obama refers to Jones as his “political godfather,” and indeed, when Obama asked how Jones secured the endorsements of a couple fellow state senators for him, Jones replied, in godfather-esque fashion, “I made them an offer. And you don’t want to know.”
McCain: William B. Ravenel
McCain has devoted a great deal of thought to the men who have shaped his mind—he’s based his three most recent books on the subject. From his father and grandfather to Ronald Reagan and Teddy Roosevelt, McCain has often admired men who walked softly (or not so softly) and carried a big stick. But in his personal life, the man who affected McCain most outside of his family was William B. Ravenel , the head of the English department at Episcopal. “His influence over my life,” McCain writes in Faith of My Fathers, “while perhaps not apparent to most who have observed its progress, was more important and more benevolent than that of any other person save members of my family.” A former army man—he served in Patton’s tank corps during World War II—Ravenel cultivated the young McCain’s interest in English, the teacher’s subject, but also encouraged him to pursue a military career. “I don’t think I really understood how deeply he impacted me until I was in prison,” McCain has said, “because it was his example I looked to when I was tempted to do something which was less than honorable.” When McCain finally did return from Vietnam, Ravenel was the only non–family member the former POW wanted to see—but his teacher had died of a heart attack two years earlier.