"As for the enemies of freedom, those who are potential adversaries, they will be reminded that peace is the highest aspiration of the American people. We will negotiate for it, sacrifice for it; we will not surrender for it, now or ever." - Reagan, January 20, 1981

"In Vietnam, we tried and failed in a just cause. No More Vietnams can mean we will not try again. It should mean we will not fail again." - from No More Vietnams by Richard Nixon

Saturday, August 23, 2008



copy/paste paragraph-by-paragraph, if needed.

¡En español también!
párrafo por párrafo de copia/pasta y chasquido en el en el altavoz de lado, de ser necesario.

Also, see the fox news documentary on McCain (highly recommended because it is all Original Material)


Who is John McCain?

Dan Nowicki, Bill Muller
The Arizona Republic
Mar. 1, 2007 10:32 AM


Nobody ever called John McCain simple.

And as the four-term Republican senator from Arizona continues in his bid to become the nation's 44th president, it's not likely that anyone will. Especially as they get to know even more about the decorated veteran, former prisoner of war and frequent talk-show guest.

For all the different names applied to him over the years - "maverick" is perhaps the best remembered - McCain is difficult to label.

"Complex" is as good a place to start as any. Some might even say contradictory.

McCain is hawkish on Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo and even Iran and North Korea. He is pushing to increase troop levels in Iraq. Yet as a congressman, McCain voted against extending Reagan's Marine mission in Lebanon.

In the 1990s, he crusaded for campaign-finance reform. In the 1980s, he vacationed in the Bahamas with savings-and-loan tycoon Charles Keating.

He ascended to Congress amid President Ronald Reagan's first term and still calls himself a "Reagan Republican." Two decades later, Democrats approached him about changing his party affiliation.

He voted against President George W. Bush's sweeping tax relief package in 2001, but he subsequently voted to extend those tax cuts.

A voracious reader well-versed in history, literature and popular culture, he graduated fifth from the bottom of his 1958 graduating class at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.

He is cozy with the national press but distant to Arizona reporters.

Running for president in 2000, McCain overtly appealed to independents, Democrats and centrist Republicans, promising to forge a new "McCain Majority." He scorned powerful leaders of the Religious Right, denouncing Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell as "agents of intolerance."

Then, in May 2006, McCain turned around and delivered the commencement address at Falwell's Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. Now, his campaign theme is "Common-sense conservatism."

What gives?

"I think life is a series of contradictions," former McCain political consultant Jay Smith once observed. "Life is complex. Who among us is so simplistic that you can just pigeonhole?"

Questions about his sometimes-prickly personality and temperament have dogged him for years. He wrote in a memoir about how as a toddler he would get angry and would hold his breath until he blacked out. Yet his longtime staff members, friends and even his ex-wife remain fiercely loyal to him.

"It's fun to be around him," said Deb Gullett, who cut her political teeth working for McCain before embarking on her own brief political career in the Arizona Legislature. "He cuts up all the time. If you screw up, you feel worse about it than he does."

McCain has described himself as a "wise ass." His edgy and sarcastic sense of humor helped cement his media image as a straight-talking "maverick" and made him a hit with late-night TV hosts such as Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien. Other times, his mouth has gotten him in trouble. Back when he entered politics, he once referred to the Arizona retirement community of Leisure World as "Seizure World." During the Clinton administration, it was a joke about presidential daughter Chelsea Clinton's looks that prompted criticism.

McCain isn't easy to figure out.

And rarely predictable.

'I'm older than dirt'
John Sidney McCain III was born Aug. 29, 1936, in the Panama Canal Zone, the namesake of his father and grandfather, both distinguished four-star Navy admirals.

In July 1967, McCain, a naval aviator, barely escaped death on the USS Forrestal in a fiery disaster that killed 134 of his shipmates and nearly sunk the aircraft carrier in the Gulf of Tonkin.

That October, his A-4 Skyhawk attack bomber was blown out of the sky over North Vietnam, landing him in a prisoner of war camp where he endured severe brutality and would spend more than five years.

Those days seem long ago.

If elected in 2008, McCain would take office as America's oldest president. He will turn 72 a couple of months before Election Day.

"I'm older than dirt, and I have more scars than Frankenstein" is McCain's stock response to questions about his age.

Yet he keeps going at a pace he set 25 years ago, when voters first sent him to Washington.

In Congress, McCain earned the nickname "White Tornado" by working a relentless schedule.

During the 2006 congressional midterm campaign season, McCain stumped for GOP hopefuls in every state, appearing at 346 candidate and party events and raising $10.5 million. He flew nearly 138,000 miles.

McCain keeps in shape by walking. He has hiked nearly every trail in Arizona, from the well-known to the obscure. During a 1990s trip to Lake Powell, he led his party through a slot canyon where the water almost covered their heads.

At the time, Gullett jokingly dubbed it "The McCain Death March."

But there are signs that McCain is mortal.

A scar from a serious 2000 skin cancer operation still is visible on the side of his face.

Aides often must comb McCain's hair before he goes on TV - his war-damaged shoulders prevent him from doing it himself.

In fate's hands
Here is a contradiction that probably stumps even McCain.

He used to brag how his insurgent 2000 White House bid disrupted Bush's anticipated GOP coronation and how he spent the early part of Bush's first term as the president's No. 1 Republican rival. He has long criticized Bush's and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's handling of the Iraq war and bucked the White House over the treatment of war on terror detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

In the irony of ironies, McCain now finds his presidential ambitions anchored to Bush's failing poll numbers.

McCain and Bush's Iraq policy are closely linked, and opponents will seek to saddle him with the war and other assorted liabilities associated with Bush's presidency.

For all of McCain's early organizational maneuvering, which has been substantial, the 2008 election may be decided by forces he can scarcely control.

Timing is everything.

If McCain can win the Republican nomination, he must convince Americans - Republicans, Democrats and independents - that they should replace an unpopular Republican president with another Republican. That, itself, is a challenge.

And then there is Iraq.

McCain was a vocal advocate for toppling the government of Saddam Hussein. In January, Bush took McCain's suggestion to up the ante in Baghdad by announcing he would deploy another 21,500 troops.

That came two months after Democrats swept Republicans out of power on Capitol Hill, largely because of the war question.

Even some Republicans are wary of the escalation.

Will Iraq doom McCain, too? One potential Democratic presidential rival quickly named Bush's escalation "the McCain Doctrine." McCain says he is acting on principle and angling to avoid another humiliating U.S. defeat a la Vietnam.

"Knowing him, he's not going to back down on it for political reasons," said Jay Smith, his former political consultant. "But like it or not, facts are facts, and upwards of 70 percent of the American people today are against our involvement in Iraq.

"If Iraq is the Number 1 issue by the time the primaries roll around, I think John McCain's chances will be diminished. But if there's victory of some kind, or the implementation of a genuine exit-strategy, and people start thinking about other issues, his chances improve."

Beyond politics, the war is personal for McCain.

In 2006, Jimmy McCain, his son, signed up for the Marine Corps and could go to Iraq later this year. His older son, Jack, is attending the Naval Academy, just as his dad, his grandfather and his great-grandfather did.

"I cannot tell you the countless hours we have talked about the many ways of giving back to their country," wife and mom Cindy McCain wrote about the couple's sons in an Aug. 6, 2006, Arizona Republic guest column.

"It is and always will be a common thread running deeply within our family."

As the 2008 presidential race takes shape, McCain is in a complicated spot.

But for McCain, things never were simple.

At the Naval Academy

Dan Nowicki, Bill Muller
The Arizona Republic
Mar. 1, 2007 10:32 AM


It's 1955 in Annapolis, Md., and Midshipman John McCain and his roommate, Frank Gamboa, are eating lunch at the mess hall at the U.S. Naval Academy. A first classman, a "firstie" in Navy parlance, begins dressing down a Filipino steward.

Gamboa hardly notices this exchange, but young John McCain is paying close attention. Since the steward is an enlisted man, he cannot fight back. The firstie is being a bully, a no-no at the Naval Academy.

The man outranks everyone at the table. McCain and Gamboa are barely past being plebes, the school's lowest rank. Fearing trouble, other underclassmen eat quickly and leave. The browbeating continues.

Finally, McCain can take no more.

"Hey, why don't you pick on someone your own size?" McCain blurts out.

There is a moment of silent shock at the table.

"What did you say?" replies the firstie.

"Why don't you stop picking on him?" McCain says. "He's doing the best he can."

"What is your name, mister?" snaps the firstie, an open threat to put McCain on report.

"Midshipman John McCain the Third," McCain says, looking straight at the upperclassman. "What's yours?"

The firstie saw the look in McCain's eyes. And fled.

A family in service
John McCain had plenty to live up to at the Naval Academy.

There was his grandfather, Adm. John "Slew" McCain, Class of 1906, a grizzled old sea dog who commanded aircraft carriers in the Pacific during World War II. And his father, Adm. Jack McCain, Class of 1931, won the Silver Star for his command of two submarines during World War II.

It was McCain's grandfather who set the course for the family.

"With his bony frame, hooked nose and sunken cheeks, he looked at least 10 years older than his age," E.B. Potter wrote of Slew McCain in a 1985 biography of Navy legend William "Bull" Halsey. "Junior officers and enlisted men often referred to him as Popeye the Sailor Man, whom he superficially resembled."

Slew McCain's peers at the Naval Academy were Halsey and Chester Nimitz, who would become major commanders during World War II. One of Slew McCain's first assignments was as executive officer on a gunboat in the Philippines commanded by Nimitz.

"They would hunt and fish, and every now and then they would stop in for their mail," grandson John McCain once recalled in a TV interview. "Can you imagine?"

In the 1930s, the military passed a regulation that aircraft carriers could be commanded only by aviators. Already in his 50s, McCain's grandfather went to flight school.

He crashed five airplanes but got his wings and went on to command a carrier. He eventually would rise to command all U.S. carriers in the Pacific, under Halsey. Planes under Slew McCain's command participated in a number of battles, including Leyte Gulf, where he met waves of Japanese kamikaze attacks and once sank 49 Japanese ships in a day.

Slew McCain was the quintessential combat officer - a throwback, a gregarious, beloved commander who didn't worry whether his uniform was pressed, McCain said. But the war, and his lifestyle, taxed his health.

"He had a very hard life to start with," his grandson recalled. "He smoked and he drank and he didn't take care of himself. Also, the strain of operations in World War II was immense."

When the Japanese surrendered aboard the USS Missouri on Sept. 2, 1945, Slew McCain was there. He can be seen in the famous picture, standing in the front row of U.S. officers. He was 61 years old, but he looked 80.

In fact, he had been sick for two weeks, at least since a cease-fire was called on Aug. 15, 1945. Around that time, the elder McCain talked with John Thach, who recalled the conversation in the book Carrier Warfare in the Pacific.

McCain had been staying in his sea cabin, popping his head out only occasionally.

"Admiral, you don't feel very well, do you?" Thach asked.

"Well," Slew McCain responded, "this surrender has come as kind of a shock to all of us. I feel lost. I don't know what to do. I know how to fight, but now I don't know whether I know how to relax or not. I am in an awful letdown. I do feel bad."

On the day of the surrender, the old man would see his son, John S. McCain Jr., a submarine commander. The younger McCain had been given the job of escorting Japanese submarines into Tokyo Bay. Father and son posed for a picture aboard the Proteus, a submarine tender.

It was the last time John McCain Jr. would see his father alive.

Four days after the surrender aboard the Missouri, Slew McCain flew back to Coronado, Calif. Thach went to visit him and noted that he looked even worse. A few minutes into the visit, McCain said he wanted to lie down.

Thach went to San Diego. A short time later, he got a phone call.

John "Slew" McCain had died of a heart attack. There is speculation that he may have suffered an earlier heart attack at sea but never sought treatment.

"My father could not get home in time for the funeral and burial in Arlington National Cemetery," John McCain wrote in the foreword to Alton Keith Gilbert's 2006 biography of Slew McCain, A Leader Born. "Just as well, he told my mother, because 'it would have killed me.' I don't think my father ever knew a single day, through the many trials and accomplishments of his own life, when he didn't mourn the loss of his father. Their love for one another was complete."

McCain's grandfather and father would become the first father-son team to reach the rank of four-star admiral.

"My father spoke of him to me often, as an example of what kind of man I should aspire to be," John McCain recalled.

Halsey biographer Potter wrote that "there were few wiser or more competent officers in the Navy than Slew McCain."

The Navy honored him in 1953 by naming a new destroyer the USS John S. McCain.

Slew McCain is buried next to his brother, William Alexander McCain, a cavalry officer known as "Wild Bill."

Bill McCain, who graduated from West Point, chased Mexican insurgent Pancho Villa with Gen. John J. "Black Jack" Pershing, served as an artillery officer during World War I and attained the rank of brigadier general.

In his 1999 book, Faith of My Fathers, McCain details his Scotch-Irish roots, noting that his great-aunt was a descendant of Robert the Bruce, an early Scottish king.

On this continent, McCain's roots date to the American Revolution. An early ancestor, John Young, served on Gen. George Washington's staff. After the family moved to Mississippi, a number of McCain's ancestors fought in the Civil War on the side of the Confederacy.

McCain's grandfather grew up on the family plantation in Carroll County, Miss. Slew McCain attended the University of Mississippi, then entered the Naval Academy.

'He was a tough guy'
Like his grandfather, John McCain was no scrubbed angel when he reached the Naval Academy in 1954. At Episcopal High, a private boarding school in Alexandria, Va., McCain was a rebel, earning the nickname "McNasty" from classmates who didn't dare cross him.

McCain was an excellent lightweight wrestler in high school. One of McCain's school friends, Malcolm Matheson, said McCain was no bully but took no guff.

"I always got along with him, but he was a tough guy," Matheson said. "He was small but feisty. He's always been that way. . . . If you messed with him, you probably would end up on the wrong side of it."

Despite his rebellious nature, McCain was destined to attend the Naval Academy, like his grandfather and his father before him.

Ron Thunman, who commanded McCain's plebe, or first-year, class, had no idea that McCain came from aNavy family but said the young man immediately impressed him. The plebe battalions competed in sports, McCain as a boxer.

What he lacked in skill he made up for in ferocity, Thunman said.

"I got a real kick out of him," Thunman said. "It was clear that nobody was going to take him down without a hell of an effort."

Thunman said he noticed McCain had a quick mind and a good sense of humor. He quickly emerged as a leader in his group.

"He stood out because he was just one of those people that you liked and you got a chuckle out of," Thunman said. "He was somebody who was always moving at top speed in one direction or another. He was never one to hang back."

A free spirit, McCain chafed under the strict rules of the academy. Each year, he was always in the "Century Club," students with more than 100 demerits.

It was mostly small stuff: messy quarters, unshined shoes, reporting late to formation, things like that, recalled Gamboa, who roomed with McCain for three years.

"He and I, we got a lot of demerits," Gamboa said. "It was almost impossible not to."

McCain's grades were good in the subjects he enjoyed, such as literature and history. Gamboa said McCain would rather read a history book than do his math homework. He did just enough to pass the classes he didn't find stimulating.

"He stood low in his class," Gamboa said. "But that was by choice, not design."

On weekends, everyone wanted to hang out with McCain, who grew up around Washington and knew all the best parties. And with his good looks, McCain attracted plenty of women.

"We used to call him 'John Wayne McCain,'" Gamboa said. "He was graying at the temples, and it made him more dashing. . . . It was a real adventure living with John."

McCain's bio in the academy yearbook said it all:

"Sturdy conversationalist and party man. John's quick wit and clever sarcasm made him a welcome man at any gathering. His bouts with the academic and executive departments contributed much to the stockpiles of legends within the hall."

One such bout almost ended in disaster.

The further cadets rose in the academy, the fewer demerits they were allowed. Naturally, McCain was pushing the limit as his senior year neared an end.

McCain already had been skirting the rules. He and some friends had bought a television, which was prohibited. They would gather in their rooms on weekends, watching boxing on Friday nights and a Western, Maverick, on Sundays. The men kept the TV hidden in a "pipe locker," a space between the dormitory rooms that housed plumbing, heating and ventilation.

"One day, the company officer got to crawling around in there, and he found the TV," Gamboa said.

Normally, all the men involved would play a game similar to paper, rock, scissors to determine who would get the demerits. But Gamboa and the others wouldn't let McCain take the chance. The 30 demerits from the TV would get him kicked out.

"He wanted to, but we just insisted," Gamboa said. "The guy who took the demerits (a model midshipman named Henry Vargo) had none."

McCain also offered advice to the lovelorn. More than one midshipman made his way to McCain's room to ask for advice on a romantic relationship.

One evening, Gamboa was writing a thank-you letter to a date (a custom in those days) when McCain came up and snatched the letter away.

"This is a terrible letter," McCain said. "Did you have fun with her? Do you want to see her again? Here, I'll tell you what to say."

Gamboa and McCain remained close. The friendship says something about McCain, notes Gamboa, a first-generation Mexican-American.

When the two met at the Naval Academy, they had nothing in common. Gamboa was the son of immigrant parents from a little town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. McCain, the son and grandson of naval officers, attended private schools in Virginia.

But to McCain, race and status meant nothing, Gamboa said.

"I don't think John McCain had even been associated with Hispanics or any minorities, given where he lived and the school he went to, but yet he picked me, a Mexican-American, to be his roommate," Gamboa said.

"I've heard the comment that he has always done well with minorities. He's the most colorblind person I've ever met in my life.

"He treats me like a brother."

Choosing a career
As the men graduated from the Naval Academy, they had to make a choice as to what branch of service they would enter, the Navy or the Marines.

Gamboa said he always knew which McCain would pick.

"There was never any question in our minds that he was going to be a flier," Gamboa said. "He was an adventurous spirit, and that's what he would do."

For McCain's roommates - Gamboa, Keith Bunting and Jack Dittrick - it was still an open question. Until they met Jack McCain, John's father.

During World War II, the elder McCain won the Silver Star while commanding two submarines: the USS Gunnel, which sunk freighters and battled Japanese destroyers in the Pacific, and the USS Dentuda, which was on hand at the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay.

While his son attended the Naval Academy, Jack McCain was living in nearby Washington, working as the Navy's senior liaison officer to Congress.

On weekends, John McCain and his roommates would visit Jack McCain, who would chomp cigars and tell them about the Navy.

"Every time we went to John's house, we would get a blue and gold pep talk from Jack McCain," Gamboa said.

Jack McCain was not subtle. To his friends, he was known as "Good Goddamn McCain."

Speaking to the Annapolis Class of 1970, Jack McCain made light of the anti-war slogan "make love, not war" by noting that naval officers "were men enough to do both," according to Faith of My Fathers.

"He was the best naval officer I ever met in my life," Gamboa said. "I think that's where John got his love of history, from his father. His father's den was filled ceiling to floor with books, and the majority were on history."

Jack McCain made a big impression on the midshipmen. McCain and his roommates joined the Navy, and all reached the rank of captain: Bunting as a submariner, Dittrick as an aviator and Gamboa on surface ships. John McCain went to flight school.

During training, McCain had several close calls, including a crash in Corpus Christi Bay and a collision with power lines in Spain. In both cases, he emerged virtually unscathed.

In 1964, while stationed in Pensacola, Fla., McCain started dating Carol Shepp, a tall Philadelphia model he met while at Annapolis.

The next year, the two were married in Philadelphia. John soon adopted Carol's two sons from a previous marriage. In 1966, they had a daughter, Sidney.

A year later, McCain was sent to Vietnam as a bomber pilot on an aircraft carrier. Carol would not see her husband again for almost six years.

Prisoner of war

Dan Nowicki, Bill Muller
The Arizona Republic
Mar. 1, 2007 10:32 AM


John McCain sat on a stool in Hanoi, his teeth broken, his body battered from a savage beating, his arms tied behind him in torture ropes.

A guard entered the room.

"Are you ready to confess your crimes?" he asked.

"No," McCain replied.

Every two hours, one guard would hold McCain while two others beat him. They kept it up for four days.

Finally, McCain lay on the floor at "The Plantation," a bloody mess, unable to move. His right leg, injured when he was shot down, was horribly swollen. A guard yanked him to his feet and threw him down. His left arm smashed against a bucket and broke again.

"I reached the lowest point of my 5½ years in North Vietnam," McCain would write later. "I was at the point of suicide."

What happened next, in that August of 1968, nearly a year after he was captured, is chronicled in The Nightingale's Song by Robert Timberg:

"(McCain) looked at the louvered cell window high above his head, then at the small stool in the room. He took off his dark blue prison shirt, rolled it like a rope, draped one end over his shoulder near his neck, began feeding the other end through the louvers."

A guard burst into the cell and pulled McCain away from the window. For the next few days, he was on suicide watch.

McCain's will had finally wilted under the beatings. Unable to endure any more, he agreed to sign a confession.

McCain slowly wrote, "I am a black criminal and I have performed the deeds of an air pirate. I almost died and the Vietnamese people saved my life, thanks to the doctors."

He would never forgive himself.

"I had learned what we all learned over there," he would write later. "Every man has a breaking point. I had reached mine."

The Forrestal Disaster
Lt. Cmdr. John McCain survived a major catastrophe on the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal a few months before he was shot down over Vietnam on Oct. 26, 1967.

On July 29, 1967, the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal was in the Tonkin Gulf, preparing for a mission.

McCain, 30, already the veteran of five bombing sorties, was strapped into his jet, warming up the engine. He was third in line to take off. Tom Ott, a second-class petty officer and McCain's parachute rigger, was wiping McCain's helmet visor, just as he always did.

Neither noticed the F-4 Phantom also revving up. An electrical surge from the engine combustion is believed to have triggered one of its wing's Zuni missiles. It accidentally fired, blasting across the deck and slamming into the fuel tank of McCain's A-4. The missile didn't detonate, but the impact spilled 200 gallons of highly flammable aviation fuel and knocked two of McCain's bombs to the deck. The fuel caught fire and McCain's plane was engulfed in smoke.

"I opened my canopy, raced onto the nose, crawled out onto the refueling probe, and jumped ten feet into the fire," McCain wrote in his 1999 book Faith of My Fathers. "I rolled through a wall of flames as my flight suit caught fire."

Slapping out the fire on his flight suit, McCain rushed to assist another A-4 pilot who also was on fire. He followed Chief Petty Officer Gerald Farrier, who wielded a fire-extinguisher, and other men carrying a hose.

Then the first bomb exploded.

McCain recalls the concussion blowing him back 10 feet. He was lucky. The other pilot, Farrier, and the men with the hose died on the spot. One man was decapitated; others were burned beyond recognition.

Flaming shrapnel whizzed across the flight deck, with small pieces of hot metal peppering McCain's chest and legs. As the crew frantically fought the fire, more bombs and planes exploded.

McCain recounts the carnage in his book: "Body parts, pieces of the ship, and scraps of planes were dropping onto the deck. Pilots strapped in their seats ejected into the firestorm. Men trapped by flames jumped overboard. More Zuni missiles streaked across the deck. Explosions tore craters in the flight deck, and burning fuel fell through the openings into the hangar bay, spreading the fire below."

In the end, 134 men, including McCain's parachute rigger Ott, perished. The blaze damaged the Forrestal so severely that the Navy almost abandoned the ship.

"The crew's heroics kept her afloat," McCain recalled. "They fought the inferno with a tenacity usually reserved for hand-to-hand combat. They fought it all day and well into the next, and they saved the Forrestal."

The November 1967 issue of All Hands, the Bureau of Naval Personnel's magazine, included a series of first-person accounts in an article headlined "A ship full of heroes."

"Seamen and commanders both directed hoses into smoke-filled holes, aware all the time that more bombs were down there and could explode at any time," D. Harvey, a chief radarman, reported. "Men straddled those already dead to train streams of water into fires, backing off when the flames belched out, advancing in the lulls. Crews manned hoses on both sides of the holes punched in the flight deck while water at their feet boiled and the deck steamed."

The article lists McCain as recovering from shrapnel wounds.

After the accident, McCain transferred from the Forrestal to the USS Oriskany, another aircraft carrier.

Shot down
On Oct. 26, McCain would fly his 23rd run over North Vietnam, joining a 20-plane mission to bomb a power plant in the capital city of Hanoi, which had been off-limits to U.S. attacks.

An officer warned McCain to be careful, that some of the pilots might not return.

"Don't worry about me," McCain said.

Hanoi was well-defended against air attacks. As McCain approached his target, Russian-made surface-to-air missiles the size of telephone poles filled the sky. Suddenly, his instrument panel lit up. A missile had locked on to his plane.

McCain dropped his bombs and began to pull up. Then, a missile sheared off his right wing, sending his plane spinning toward earth, out of control.

"I pulled the ejection handle and was knocked unconscious by the force of the ejection - the air speed was about 500 knots," McCain would write in 1973 for U.S. News & World Report. "I didn't realize it at the moment, but I had broken my right leg around the knee, my right arm in three places, and my left arm. I regained consciousness just before I landed by parachute in a lake right in the center of Hanoi, one they called the Western Lake. My helmet and my oxygen mask had been blown off."

McCain's battered body sank 15 feet to the bottom of the muddy lake. He managed to kick his way to the surface with his one good leg, but his equipment dragged him back down. Finally, as he went down for a third time, McCain used his teeth to inflate his life preserver and bobbed to the surface.

North Vietnamese pulled McCain from the lake, stripping off his clothes. McCain felt a twinge in his right knee and was horrified to see his leg bent at a 90-degree angle.

"My God, my leg," McCain said.

A man slammed a rifle butt down on McCain's right shoulder, shattering it. Others bayoneted him in the foot and groin.

Eventually, he was thrown onto a truck and taken to Hanoi's main prison. He was placed in a cell and told he would not receive any medical treatment until he gave military information. McCain refused and was beaten unconscious.

On the fourth day, two guards entered McCain's cell. One pulled back the blanket to reveal McCain's injured knee.

"It was about the size, shape and color of a football," McCain recalled.

Fearful of blood poisoning that would lead to death, McCain told his captors he would talk if they took him to a hospital.

"They brought in this doctor we called Zorba, and he examined me, took my pulse and turned to this other guy we called The Bug and said something in Vietnamese. And The Bug said, 'It's too late, it's too late,'" McCain said.

"I said, 'If you take me to the hospital, I'll get well.' Zorba took my pulse again and shook his head, and The Bug said, 'It's too late.' And they took me back to my cell."

About two hours later, McCain's cell door burst open, and The Bug rushed in, saying, "Your father is a big admiral. Now we take you to the hospital."

It had taken some time, but the North Vietnamese figured out that McCain's father, Jack, was a major U.S. Naval commander.

They started calling McCain "The Crown Prince."

Maintaining silence
McCain was moved to a filthy hospital, where blood and plasma were administered. He recovered a little but was still in sorry shape.

Soon, McCain was told that a Frenchman wanted to talk to him and would take a message back to McCain's family.

Before the meeting, the North Vietnamese tried to set McCain's shattered right arm. Without anesthetic, a doctor using a fluoroscope worked on the arm for 90 minutes, with McCain screaming in pain. The arm had two floating bones, and the doctor could not set it properly.

Finally, the doctor gave up and wrapped a cast around McCain from his neck to his waist and down his right arm to his wrist.

They moved McCain to a new room with clean white sheets. Soon afterward, a North Vietnamese man known as "The Cat" arrived. He was the commander of all prison camps in Hanoi.

Through an interpreter, The Cat told McCain that "the French television man is coming."

It was at that point that McCain realized his visitor was a journalist.

"I don't think I want to be filmed," McCain said.

The Cat wouldn't be dissuaded. He told McCain that he needed two operations and that he would not get them if he didn't say he was grateful to the Vietnamese people and sorry for his crimes.

The French TV crew arrived, led by a reporter named Francois Chalais. On the film, which was shown later on CBS television, McCain looks drugged. He wasn't. He was in agony from the abortive attempt to set the bones in his right arm.

McCain told Chalais that his treatment was satisfactory. This upset The Cat, who stood behind McCain and told him to say he was grateful for humane and lenient treatment. McCain refused. When The Cat pressed it, Chalais broke in.

"I think what he told me is sufficient," he said.

On the film, McCain told his wife, Carol, and his children that he was getting well and that he loved them. When the North Vietnamese insisted that McCain call for a quick end to the war, Chalais waved them off.

"How is the food?" Chalais asked.

"Well, it's not Paris, but I eat it," McCain replied.

The interview ended, and McCain was taken to his dirty room. The North Vietnamese operated on his knee, accidentally cutting the ligaments on one side. Throughout his stay as a POW, McCain could never walk right. Among his fellow POWs, he earned the nickname "Crip."

Jack McCain, his father, and his mother went to CBS to watch the French film footage before its national broadcast, said Herbert Hetu, a naval public affairs officer quoted in Faith of My Fathers.

"I think Admiral McCain and his wife looked at the film twice," Hetu said. "His reaction afterward was very emotional, but he never talked to us about it. Some things are just too painful for words."

Blame the Americans
After six weeks in the hospital, McCain was taken to a prison camp known as The Plantation and placed in a cell with George "Bud" Day and Norris Overly, both Air Force majors.

Taking one look at McCain, Day was convinced that the North Vietnamese had brought McCain to their cell to die and planned on blaming the Americans.

"He was extremely skinny, and he was just about filthy," said Day, who after the war became a longtime Fort Walton Beach, Fla., attorney and veterans-affairs activist. "He had food and drink and liquids run all over his face. He had a pretty good beard. ... He probably weighed less than 100 pounds.

"He was in this great big white cast, and his hair was snow white. He just looked like he was absolutely on the verge of death."

Day said McCain's injured right arm jutted from his body cast like a stick "sticking out of a snowman."

But more than anything else, Day remembers McCain's eyes.

"His eyes were extremely bright; they had that real fever luster," Day said. "I just took one look at him and had no qualms that he was going to die, and soon."

Despite his poor condition, McCain still was happy to see fellow Americans. The men spent the night whispering among themselves.

By 6 a.m., Day was convinced that McCain had a decent chance to live, providing the fever did not get him. Slowly, McCain began to recover.

"He was just a very determined guy with a lot of spirit," Day said. "It's kind of like when you see a horse, a young colt, and you just know this is a strong-spirited animal. You could see all that in him."

McCain, it seemed, refused to die.

"John was not going to help the Lord take him out," Day said. "If the Lord was involved in taking him out, John was resisting all the way. If the Lord was helping him, John was giving him 100 percent of his effort."

In the first days, McCain could not wash or feed himself without help. The task of nursing McCain fell to Overly because Day had been tortured in ropes and had little use of his hands.

"I've got to give Norris a lot of credit," Day said. "Norris took care of John like a baby, like it was his own child. There was no question that he loved John. He did things for John that only a parent would do for their children."

Occasionally, North Vietnamese dignitaries would stroll by to gawk at the prize prisoner. Because McCain's father was an admiral, the North Vietnamese thought McCain's family was very wealthy. They would ask how many corporations his father owned.

McCain just laughed.

Slowly, he was nursed back to health. McCain's infections were healing because he could wash regularly. Soon, he could hobble around in his cell for a few minutes at a time.

Code talkers
After a time, Overly was removed from the cell and placed with two other prisoners who were going to be released early.

Early release was forbidden by the military's Code of Conduct. To prevent the enemy from subverting prisoners or using them as propaganda tools, officers were to accept release in the order they were captured.

The POWs kept tabs on each other via underground communication techniques, which the guards "went to extraordinary lengths to stop," with little success, according to McCain.

"Through flashed hand signals when we were moved about, tap codes on the wall, notes hidden in washroom drains, and holding our enamel drinking cups up to the wall with our shirts wrapped around them and speaking through them, we were able to communicate with each other," McCain wrote in his book. "The whole prison system became a complex information network, POWs busily trafficking in details about each other's circumstances and news from home that would arrive with every new addition to our ranks."

McCain kept track of his 80 or so fellow American prisoners and even silently recited their names as he went to sleep. "Keeping an ever-lengthening account of the men we learned were prisoners was the solemn responsibility of every POW," McCain wrote.

So everybody knew that Navy Lt. Everett Alvarez, who had been shot down on Aug. 5, 1964, should have been the first prisoner released.

Nevertheless, Overly and two others accepted early release under a North Vietnamese "amnesty" program. The other POWs dubbed the practice the "Fink Release Program."

McCain and Day, who won the Medal of Honor for his service in Vietnam, don't judge Overly too harshly.

"If I had been in (Overly's) shoes, maybe I would have done things differently than I did," said Day, who retired from the Air Force in 1976 as a full colonel.

"I came back from Vietnam all crippled up and all screwed up, and a lot of that could have been avoided if I had given (them) a lot of the stuff they were really pushing me for.

"I didn't think it was the right thing, so I didn't do it."

In Faith of My Fathers, McCain credits Overly with saving his life.

"I thought him a good man then, as I do today," McCain wrote. "I feared he had made a mistake, but I couldn't stand in judgment of him. ... I wished him well as he departed, carrying a letter from me to (McCain's wife) Carol in his pocket."

Once McCain was able to walk on his own, guards moved Day out. For two years, McCain would be alone in his cell, which he described in U.S. News & World Report after his release:

"My room was fairly decent-sized - I'd say about 10 by 10. The door was solid. There were no windows. The only ventilation came from two small holes at the top in the ceiling, about 6 inches by 4 inches. The roof was tin, and it got hot as hell in there.

"The room was kind of dim - night and day - but they always kept on a small light bulb so they could observe me."

In October 1968, McCain heard a clamor in the cell behind him at The Plantation and began tapping on the wall to contact his new neighbor. The call-up sign was the five-tap "shave and a haircut," and the other prisoner would answer with two taps.

For two weeks he got no answer, but finally two taps came back. Using a cup to the wall, McCain could hear the other prisoner and managed to give him the tap code. He finally gave McCain his name: Ernie Brace. For a while, all Brace could do was tap out "I'm Ernie Brace" and then collapse into sobs.

Brace was a decorated former Marine who had flown more than 100 combat missions in Korea. He had been accused of deserting the scene of an aircraft accident, was court-martialed and received a dishonorable discharge.

But that didn't keep Brace out of the war. As a civilian pilot, he flew for a CIA-backed airline and was shot down over Laos.

Brace had spent 31/2 years in a bamboo cage with his feet in stocks and his neck in an iron collar. During the ordeal, he almost lost the use of his legs. He escaped three times, and when he was captured the third time, he was buried in the ground up to his neck. After a year had passed, McCain and Brace were communicating with other prisoners in the camp, shuttling messages back and forth with the tap code.

On Dec. 9, 1969, a guard jerked open Brace's cell door. The incident is recounted in Brace's book, A Code to Keep.

"You are in bad trouble for communicating," the guard said. "You are being taken to a harsher place."

Blindfolded, Brace was put into a truck with soldiers and other prisoners. As the vehicle rolled through Hanoi, Brace felt someone tapping a message on his thigh.

"Hi," said the message. "I John McCain. Who U?"

Brace said tears began forming in his eyes as he grabbed his friend's hand, squeezing out the answer.

"EB here."

Offered early release, Brace turned it down, citing the military code. He was the longest-held civilian POW in Vietnam.

An offer to go home
In June 1968, McCain was taken to an interrogation room, where "The Cat" awaited him. He was joined by another man, "The Rabbit," who spoke very good English.

The Cat spent two hours in seemingly aimless conversation, telling McCain about how he had run French prison camps in the early 1950s. He said that he had released some prisoners early and that they had thanked him later. He also mentioned that Norris Overly had gone home "with honor."

All of a sudden, The Cat blurted out: "Do you want to go home?"

McCain told him he'd have to think about it. He'd been hit by a bout of dysentery and was in poor shape. He was losing weight.

But McCain knew the real reason the North Vietnamese wanted to release him. Adm. Jack McCain, his father, was an important U.S. military figure. In July he would assume command of all U.S. forces in the Pacific. McCain's release would help the North Vietnamese propaganda machine.

McCain realized that the Code of Conduct gave him no choice. Alvarez, who was being held elsewhere, was supposed to be the first man released.

"I just knew it wasn't the right thing to do," he said. "I knew that they wouldn't have offered it to me if I hadn't been the son of an admiral.

"I just didn't think it was the honorable thing to do."

Three days later, McCain met with The Cat again. The North Vietnamese turned the screws. The Cat told McCain that President Johnson had ordered McCain home. McCain asked to see the orders. The Cat didn't have any.

Then the North Vietnamese commander produced a letter from McCain's wife, Carol, saying, "I wished that you had been one of those three who got to come home."

McCain calmly told The Cat that the prisoners must be released in the order they were captured, starting with Alvarez.

On the Fourth of July, McCain had a final sit-down with The Cat and The Rabbit.

"Our senior officer wants to know your final answer," The Rabbit said.

"My final answer is the same," McCain said. "It's no."

"That is your final answer?"

"That is my final answer."

The Cat, who had been seated behind a pile of papers, grabbed a pen and snapped it in half. Ink spurted all over the desk. He rose and kicked the chair over behind him.

"They taught you too well," he said, then left, slamming the door.

Before long, McCain would find himself tied to a stool, and the guards would literally beat him into confessing that he was a "black criminal" and an "air pirate."

McCain's account was corroborated by a cable from Averell Harriman, who was President Johnson's envoy to the Paris peace talks. Harriman had tea with a Vietnamese official, who mentioned that McCain had refused early release.

A Christmas service

On Christmas Eve 1968, about 50 POWs, including McCain, were herded into a room decorated with flowers for a makeshift church service.

The North Vietnamese were intent on milking the ceremony for every bit of PR value. Cameramen moved around the room, filming the ceremony. Flash bulbs popped in the background.

Meanwhile, McCain and other prisoners were busy exchanging information. One of the guards, conscious that he was being filmed, smiled while he told McCain to stop talking.

McCain cursed the guard and kept briefing another prisoner.

"I refused to go home," McCain said. "I was tortured for it. They broke my rib and rebroke my arm."

McCain pressed on, and the guards kept trying to quiet him.

"Our senior ranking officer is Colonel Larson," McCain said.

"No talking!"

McCain cursed them again and flashed his middle finger toward the camera.

He returned to his cell, where he waited for his beating. It didn't come until the day after Christmas.

In May 1969, the North Vietnamese asked McCain to write a letter to U.S. pilots asking them not to fly over North Vietnam. When he refused, they made him stand for hours and hours.

When McCain tired and sat down, a guard stomped on his injured leg. McCain was back on crutches for the next 18 months.

In late 1969, things began to look up for the POWs for the first time.

President Nixon had taken office in January. During the Johnson administration, released POWs weren't allowed to talk about bad conditions in the prison camps for fear that such complaints would make things even worse for the men still being held.

That changed under Nixon.

In August 1969, under pressure, the North Vietnamese began releasing sick and injured prisoners. Among them were Navy Lt. Robert Frishman, who had a badly injured arm, Air Force Capt. Wes Rumble, who was in a body cast with a broken back, and Navy Seaman Doug Hegdahl, who had lost 75 pounds.

The men held press conferences, telling the horrifying details of torture and mistreatment. After that, treatment of POWs began to improve.

By fall, the torture had almost stopped. The food improved. The guards seemed almost friendly.

McCain's barred cell door had been covered with wood to keep him from looking out and from getting any ventilation. But in fall 1969, the board was removed at night to cool McCain's cell. And prisoners were allowed to bathe more often.

"It was all very amazing," McCain would write later.

In December 1969, McCain was moved to the Hanoi Hilton. There, he met with a Cuban journalist who asked McCain general questions about the war. After the interview, a photographer came in and started snapping pictures, though McCain had said he didn't want his picture taken. After that, he refused to meet with visitors.

In June 1970, McCain was moved into a room called Calcutta, which had no ventilation. There, McCain suffered from heat prostration and another bout of dysentery and was cut to half rations.

In December 1970, McCain was moved to a room that housed 45 to 50 prisoners. In February 1971, the prisoners defied their captors and held a church service. When the men presiding over the service were taken away by guards, the men started singing The Star-Spangled Banner very loudly.

Fearing a riot, the guards rushed in with ropes and subdued the men. A few days later, McCain and others were moved to a punishment camp the prisoners called Skid Row. Though the conditions were filthy, McCain said, the prison was a piece of cake compared with conditions in 1969.

In 1971 and 1972, conditions gradually improved. McCain, whose weight had dropped to 105 pounds during his first years in Hanoi, began to regain some of his health. He was allowed to exercise, which eased the boredom and made it easier to sleep.

"He was crippled but mentally fierce," recalled Orson Swindle, who roomed with McCain for the last two years of their incarceration. "He was stiff-legged and had awkward movement of both arms. He did the funniest push-ups I've even seen.

"One of his arms was sort of crooked. . . . He did push-ups with a tilt to it."

The men were in a big room with a large concrete slab in the center and a 3-foot-wide, horseshoe-shaped path around the slab. They would exercise by walking along the path.

"When John would run in place, it was sort of humorous to watch him," Swindle said. "One leg would bend, and the other wouldn't. It was a sight to behold."

To entertain themselves and the other men, McCain and Swindle organized "Sunday Night at the Movies," retelling, and in some cases performing, scenes from Hollywood films they had seen.

One of their favorites was One-Eyed Jacks, a 1961 movie in which Marlon Brando is beaten by a worthless sheriff played by Slim Pickens. McCain and Swindle especially loved the part where Brando calls Pickens a "scum-sucking pig."

In December 1972, McCain had a front-row seat to a full-scale bombing attack on Hanoi.

"It was the most spectacular show I'll ever see," McCain later wrote in U.S. News and World Report. "The bombs were dropping so close that the building would shake. The SAMs were flying all over, and the sirens were whining - it was really a wild scene."

Although the bombing had been conceived by Nixon, the orders had been given by McCain's father, Jack.

McCain's father never wrote to him during the war because of the propaganda value of such a letter. He did, however, try to pass McCain a secret message once, according to a passage in Faith of My Fathers.

In letters to his wife, McCain was using a fairly obvious code to send messages back to the States. Naval intelligence, fearing that McCain would be caught, apprised the admiral.

Adm. Jack McCain sent a hidden message in a letter Carol wrote to McCain: "JUNIOR URGES CAUTION PLEASE STOP THIS."

The younger McCain never saw it because the North Vietnamese withheld Carol's letters.

By January 1973, McCain was back at The Plantation. The prisoners sensed that the war was nearing its end. The guards hardly bothered them.

Around that time, McCain was playing bridge with Swindle and two others when he was dealt a perfect hand. But McCain made a rookie mistake and lost his advantage. The other men teased him unmercifully.

Finally, McCain stopped talking to Swindle, who slept right next to him on the floor. This went on for several days.

"We would be walking on the path, and I would say, 'Hi, John,' and John wouldn't respond," Swindle said.

Then one day, the guards came in and ordered Swindle to pack his gear. As one of the first pilots captured, Swindle was in line to be released.

As Swindle was being ushered out, a frantic McCain rushed up to his side.

"John comes running up and says, 'Orson, Orson, I've really been a jerk the last few days.' I said, 'I don't even want to talk to you,' and I turned away.

"Then I looked back at him and winked, and I had a big grin on my face, and I said, 'I'll see you at home.'"

In March, McCain joined a group of prisoners who were put onto trucks and driven to Gia Lam Airport in Hanoi. McCain said he didn't believe he was leaving until he actually spoke with an American in uniform.

It was the best day of his life.

"At the time, it wasn't that overwhelming. It was one of those things that you had anticipated for so long, nothing could have lived up to my expectations," McCain said. "It's like when a kid waits for Christmas, and then it arrives, and it can't quite live up to what he expected."

One by one, The Rabbit read off their names, and they boarded the plane.

McCain's long ordeal was over.

Back in the USA

Dan Nowicki, Bill Muller
The Arizona Republic
Mar. 1, 2007 10:33 AM


The day Lt. Cmdr. John McCain limped down the stairs to the runway at Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines, he stepped into a world that was more than five years ahead of him.

Adm. Noel Gaylor, who had succeeded McCain's father, Jack, as commander of the Pacific fleet, was there to meet the plane carrying McCain and the other former prisoners. McCain's father, Adm. Jack McCain, declined to accompany him because the military did not invite family members of other returning POWs.

The newly free McCain had some adjusting to do.

He had gotten filtered news about America from his North Vietnamese captors only in bits and pieces. President Nixon had replaced President Johnson. The United States had completed a successful moon mission. An anti-war youth counterculture had flowered.

Catching up on the latest twists and turns in politics and pop culture would have been daunting enough.

But first McCain had to digest some shocking news about his family.

Carol, his wife, had been in a disfiguring traffic accident in 1969, a development that McCain first heard about from an officer's offhand remark.

Like her husband, Carol was enduring a painful episode. On an icy Christmas Eve, she lost control of her car and crashed into a telephone pole. Authorities found her thrown from the wreckage, in shock and with serious injuries. Her legs were crunched, her arm and pelvis smashed and internal organs were bleeding. She almost died, and doctors discussed amputating her legs. It took months of operations, physical therapy and convalescence before Carol could walk without crutches.

"You might be upset when you see me," Carol warned him from Jacksonville in their first post-release telephone conversation.

McCain reassured her: "Well, you know, I don't look so good myself. It's fine."

According to McCain's account of Carol's recovery in Faith of My Fathers, she lost 4 inches off her height as a result of the accident and the related medical procedures.

In the book, McCain praised Carol's "determined spirit" and refusal to succumb to "despair and self-pity."

McCain was eager to get home to Carol and the children. His daughter Sidney was just a baby when McCain departed for Vietnam. She didn't remember him.

"To her I had become an object of curiosity, a man in a photograph whom her mother and brothers talked about a lot," McCain wrote.

He had no idea what Sidney or her older brothers now looked like. He had gotten little word on their growth while in the prison camp.

By St. Patrick's Day 1973 he was back in Florida.

"I have often maintained that I left Vietnam behind me when I arrived at Clark," McCain would write in Faith of My Fathers. "That is an exaggeration. But I did not want my experiences in Vietnam to be the leitmotif of the rest of my life."

Only McCain would find that he could never really leave Vietnam behind.

Looking back in Faith of My Fathers, McCain called his POW experience "transforming":

"Surviving my imprisonment strengthened my self-confidence, and my refusal of early release taught me to trust my own judgment. I am grateful to Vietnam for those discoveries, as they have made a great difference in my life. I gained a seriousness of purpose that observers of my early life had found difficult to detect. I had made more than my share of mistakes in my life. In the years ahead, I would make many more. But I would no longer err out of self-doubt or to alter a fate I felt had been imposed on me. I know my life is blessed and always has been."

Celebrity POW
McCain returned to the United States something of a celebrity.

The New York Times put a photo of him disembarking at Clark on its front page.

A White House reception yielded another famous news service image of McCain teetering on crutches and grasping Nixon's hand.

McCain participated in parades, made other personal appearances and sorted through fan mail.

He even headlined one of California Gov. Ronald Reagan's annual prayer breakfasts and became acquainted with the future president and his wife, Nancy.

"Unlike most Vietnam veterans, McCain and the other POWs were welcomed home as heroes," author Robert Timberg wrote in John McCain: An American Odyssey. "To many Americans they were. To others they symbolized the national catharsis that effectively marked the end of the nation's participation in the Vietnam War."

McCain authored a lengthy first-person account of his experience for the May 14, 1973, issue of U.S. News & World Report. The magazine cover featured a picture of McCain and promised the "inside story" of "how POWs fought back."

The U.S. News essay introduced American readers to The Cat, The Rabbit, The Bug and the other cruel characters who ran the North Vietnamese prison camp, as well as to the captive American resisters. More than that, it preserved a fascinating glimpse of McCain at age 36.

The piece finds McCain already sounding a bit like a politician:

• On the United States: "Now that I'm back, I find a lot of hand-wringing about this country. I don't buy that. I think America today is a better country than the one I left nearly six years ago. ... I think America is a better country now because we have been through a sort of purging process, a re-evaluation of ourselves. Now I see more of an appreciation of our way of life. There is more patriotism. The flag is all over the place. I hear new values being stressed - the concern for the environment is a case in point."

• On the public reaction to his release: "This outpouring on behalf of us who were prisoners of war is staggering and a little embarrassing because basically we feel that we are just average American Navy, Marine and Air Force pilots who got shot down. Anybody else in our place would have performed just as well."

• On his future: "My own plans for the future are to remain in the Navy, if I am able to return to flying status. That depends upon whether the corrective surgery on my arms and my leg is successful. If I have to leave the Navy, I hope to serve the government in some capacity, preferably in the Foreign Service for the State Department. I had a lot of time to think over there and came to the conclusion that one of the most important things in life - along with a man's family - is to make some contribution to his country."

The U.S. News spread included a sidebar headlined "Three generations of a famous Navy family" that included photos of his grandfather and father.

McCain was not destined for a quick return to the ranks of Navy fliers. His recovery was a long struggle. His condition limited his immediate options.

As a former POW, McCain was allowed to pick his next assignment and decided to attend the National War College at Ft. McNair in Washington, D.C. Navy officials protested because McCain was not yet a commander, the minimum rank required for admittance to the college, a training ground for higher officers. McCain actually had earned the rank, but the promotion hadn't taken effect yet. He appealed to Navy Secretary John Warner, a friend of his father's and a future U.S. senator from Virginia. Warner said McCain could go.

By late 1974, McCain had recuperated to the point where he was able to regain ("barely," as he put it) his cherished flight status. He took over as executive officer, and eventually commanding officer, for a group that trained aircraft carrier pilots at Cecil Field in Jacksonville.

Landing on Capitol Hill
In 1977, Admiral James Holloway, then chief of Naval operations, had an idea for a new job for McCain. Hoping to capitalize on McCain's notoriety, Holloway assigned him to the Navy's Senate liaison office on Capitol Hill in Washington. Years earlier, McCain's father had done a similar stint as the Navy's legislative-affairs director.

McCain started in the office's No. 2 spot, but it wasn't long before he was promoted to captain and took charge of the operation, which was based in the Russell Senate Office Building.

The job entailed lobbying and acting as a communication conduit between the Navy and the Senate.

McCain considers the liaison position his "real entry into the world of politics and the beginning of my second career as a public servant."

While McCain was reestablishing a career, he and his wife separated. His work ethic remained strong.

Congressional meddling in the Vietnam War had rubbed McCain the wrong way, and he did not hold the institution in particularly high esteem when he took his new post. That quickly changed as he observed the Senate Armed Services Committee and defense appropriations subcommittee in action and got to know the lawmakers.

"I watched and admired (Sens.) Barry Goldwater, John Stennis, Henry Jackson, John Tower, Sam Nunn and others wrestle with all manner of issues involved in America's defense with great skill, intelligence, and seriousness," McCain recalled in Worth the Fighting For. "They were statesmen, and although some of them had never served in uniform, I came to appreciate that most were patriots of the first order."

Some of these leaders, most notably Tower, would leave a lasting influence on McCain.

Tower, R-Texas, would serve in the Senate until 1985. Later, he ran the panel that investigated the Iran-Contra scandal. (It became known as the Tower Commission.) After that, President George H.W. Bush nominated Tower for Defense secretary, but the Democrat-controlled Senate blocked him partly over character concerns about his womanizing and drinking. He died in a 1991 plane crash.

Tower held Lyndon Johnson's old Senate seat. He had served in the Navy, been solidly pro-Vietnam War and was the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee.

McCain and Tower became pals, probably an unprecedented relationship for a senator and a Navy liaison.

James Jones, a Marine who served under McCain during this period, told author Timberg: "He was very much loved by John Tower. I think that John McCain is the son that John Tower never had."

For his part, McCain remembered that Tower "loved good company, and that he thought me such is something I'm proud of."

"Tower knew my father well, and he knew of my grandfather," McCain wrote in his 2002 memoir. "He respected my service in Vietnam. He was also, of course, a loyal Navy man, and whenever he traveled abroad officially, he would request that I serve as his escort. I traveled quite a lot with him, perhaps on as many as twenty trips, all around the world."

McCain was not the typical Navy liaison. His Capitol Hill office became a popular afternoon hangout. His friendship with Tower was deep, and he also developed ties with other key lawmakers and staffers, among them Sens. Gary Hart, D-Colo., and William Cohen, R-Maine. Hart later unsuccessfully sought the Democratic presidential nomination. Cohen, though a Republican, later served as Defense secretary under President Bill Clinton.

"I never ran across any people in the military liaison offices that were at all like John," Pete Lakeland, a Foreign Affairs Committee staff member, told Timberg. "In fact, I really didn't even get to know any of the others. They handled baggage, and that was it."

John W. Mashek, a veteran U.S. News & World Report political reporter who at the time covered the Armed Services Committee, remembered watching McCain's political ambitions emerge.

"Over lunch, he once told me that he felt just as smart as many of the senators on the panel," Mashek wrote in a July 13, 2006, blog posting. "He suggested he just might go into politics. The rest, as they say, is history."

Arizona, the early years

Dan Nowicki, Bill Muller
The Arizona Republic
Mar. 1, 2007 10:33 AM


In 1979, John McCain came face to face with his future.

He was in Hawaii, attending a military reception. While there, he met a young, blond former cheerleader from Phoenix named Cindy Hensley.

McCain was immediately dazzled and spent the event chatting her up.

"She was lovely, intelligent and charming, 17 years my junior but poised and confident," McCain wrote in his 2002 book, Worth the Fighting For. "I monopolized her attention the entire time, taking care to prevent anyone else from intruding on our conversation. When it came time to leave the party, I persuaded her to join me for drinks at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. By the evening's end, I was in love."

McCain recalls that both he and Cindy initially misled each other about their ages. McCain made himself a little younger, and Cindy made herself a little older. They found out their real ages when the local paper published them. McCain was 43, Cindy 25.

"So our marriage," McCain cracks, "is really based on a tissue of lies."

Early in the courtship, McCain called Cindy from Beijing, where he was traveling with a Senate Foreign Relations Committee contingent. Cindy was in the hospital recuperating from minor knee surgery. She thanked him for the lovely flowers in her room, sent from "John."

What McCain didn't tell Cindy was that he hadn't sent the flowers. They were from another John, who lived in Tucson.

"I never thanked him," Cindy notes with a grin.

After a whirlwind courtship, John asked Cindy to marry him. But there were some details to clear out of the way.

McCain needed a divorce from Carol, his wife of 14 years from whom he was separated. After McCain's dramatic homecoming from Vietnam, the couple grew apart. Their marriage began disintegrating while McCain was stationed in Jacksonville. McCain has admitted to having extramarital affairs.

"If there was one couple that deserved to make it, it was John and Carol McCain," author Robert Timberg wrote in John McCain: An American Odyssey. "They endured nearly six years of unspeakable trauma with courage and grace. In the end it was not enough. They won the war but lost the peace."

In February 1980, less than a year after he met Cindy, McCain petitioned a Florida court to dissolve his marriage to Carol, calling the union "irretrievably broken."

Bud Day, a lawyer and fellow POW, handled the divorce proceedings.

"I thought things were going fairly well, and then it just came apart," Day later recalled. "That happened to quite a few. . . . I don't fault (Carol), and I don't really fault John, either."

In his book Worth the Fighting For, McCain offers his own post-mortem on his failed marriage. He "had not shown the same determination to rebuild (his) personal life" as he had to excel in his naval career.

"Sound marriages can be hard to recover after great time and distance have separated a husband and wife. We are different people when we reunite," McCain wrote. "But my marriage's collapse was attributable to my own selfishness and immaturity more than it was to Vietnam, and I cannot escape blame by pointing a finger at the war. The blame was entirely mine."

Carol, who remains on good terms with her former husband, generally has avoided reporters interested in hearing her side of the story.

She did briefly address her divorce to Timberg: "The breakup of our marriage was not caused by my accident or Vietnam or any of those things. I don't know that it might not have happened if John had never been gone. I attribute it more to John turning 40 and wanting to be 25 again than I do to anything else."

In the divorce settlement, McCain was generous with Carol, the mother of their daughter Sidney and two sons, whom McCain had adopted. Among other things, McCain gave Carol the rights to houses in Florida and Virginia and agreed to provide insurance or pay for additional treatment she was expected to require.

Except for signing the property settlement, Carol did not participate in the divorce. A court summons and other paperwork sent to her during the proceeding went unanswered.

In April 1980, the judge entered a default judgment and declared the marriage dissolved.

A month later, McCain married Cindy in Phoenix, where the couple would move. The wedding party included a couple of McCain's high-profile friends from Washington. Sen. William Cohen was the best man. Sen. Gary Hart was a groomsman.

Carol went her separate way, finding work as a personal aide to Nancy Reagan during the 1980 presidential primary campaign and later running the White House Visitors Office.

McCain for Congress
The move to Arizona was convenient for the budding politico McCain. After the 1980 census, Arizona was sure to get a new, fifth congressional seat.

But was it too convenient?

McCain explains the reaction of some of his new neighbors: "My ambition was plainly obvious, and to some, it was presumptuous and arrogant. If not said, it was thought by many that when I had decided to start a political career, I had looked around the country for a place where I thought the locals were gullible enough to take a chance on a novice. Worse, some critics contended that I had married Cindy because of her Arizona residency and her wealth and connections there. Neither charge is fair, and I am surprised at how angry I still become when some fool hints that such ruthlessness lay behind decisions to marry and relocate."

McCain truly was at a turning point in his life and ready for a new challenge.

He had a new wife. He retired from the Navy in 1981. His father, Adm. Jack McCain, died on March 22, 1981.

Politics occupied his mind.

According to Timberg's book, McCain actually had toyed with the idea of seeking a House seat as far back as 1976, when he was still living in Florida, but determined he probably couldn't win. After his Senate liaison duty, it became an obsession.

Cindy's money came from her family business. Her father, Jim Hensley, owned a Phoenix Anheuser-Busch distributorship that had made him a multimillionaire. He gave his new son-in-law a job as vice president of public relations, but, really, McCain was just biding his time until the right political opportunity came up.

"Jim Hensley didn't care about PR," said Bill Shover, a former executive with The Arizona Republic who met McCain in 1981. "When you have the Budweiser franchise, you . . . don't need PR."

McCain himself acknowledges that he "fit the bill" of the stereotypical "upwardly mobile boss' son-in-law who obviously lacks the experience and training typically required for the job he holds." But he didn't want to let Hensley down, either.

On the political front, McCain reached out to his Capitol Hill mentors and friends for guidance. Cohen put him in touch with veteran political consultant Jay Smith, who advised McCain to discreetly get out and start meeting Arizona VIPs.

His job with Hensley allowed him to do that.

It didn't take long for McCain to meet wealthy power brokers such as developers Charles Keating Jr. and Fife Symington III, who would later be elected governor. Local polls suggested McCain start slowly by running for the state Legislature, but McCain wasn't interested.

Eager to make up for time lost as a POW, McCain wanted Arizona's new congressional seat.

But he had a problem. The new district was in the Tucson area. For McCain to move from Phoenix to Tucson would open him up to criticism as a carpetbagger.

Fate lent a hand. In January 1982, former House Minority Leader John Rhodes, R-Ariz., a legendary figure in Arizona Republican politics, retired from his seat in the former 1st Congressional District, which included the East Valley. Rhodes had first won the seat in 1952.

On the day Rhodes announced his retirement, Shover got a call from McCain. He could hear noise in the background.

"Where are you?" Shover asked.

"I'm on the freeway," said McCain, who had stopped at a service station to call Shover. "I'm on the way to Mesa to buy a house."

McCain was hardly a shoo-in. Other well-known local Republicans had their eye on Rhodes' job and were not about to step aside for an audacious newcomer.

Two veteran state lawmakers entered the race. State Sen. Jim Mack, R-Tempe, had served in the Legislature since 1971; Rep. Donna Carlson-West, R-Mesa, since 1975. Ray Russell, a third GOP rival, was a personable former veterinarian active in Mesa civic affairs and the Mormon Church.

The Republican establishment took McCain seriously because of his war record and Washington insider ties. Plus, McCain had charm. Women were drawn to him, and men respected him as a man's man.

"John was a very engaging guy," Shover recalls. "You could not help but like John."

But McCain still had a political Achilles' heel. As a recent Valley transplant, he looked like a carpetbagger, and critics instantly seized the issue.

How McCain finally squelched the charge has become part of Arizona political lore.

At a 1982 candidates forum, McCain "snapped," to use his own word, after somebody brought up his residency "for the thousandth time."

Here is what he said:

"Listen, pal. I spent 22 years in the Navy. My grandfather was in the Navy. We in the military service tend to move a lot. We have to live in all parts of the country, all parts of the world. I wish I could have had the luxury, like you, of growing up and living and spending my entire life in a nice place like the first district of Arizona, but I was doing other things. As a matter of fact, when I think about it now, the place I lived longest in my life was Hanoi."

The late Phoenix Gazette political columnist John Kolbe is quoted in Timberg's book as calling McCain's brusque answer "the most devastating response to a potentially troublesome political issue I've ever heard."

McCain recalls in Worth the Fighting For: "Looking back, I think the race was effectively over right then. I had stunned the audience and finally put to rest the one nagging vulnerability that was still clouding my prospects. But I didn't know that then. I was just mad and had taken a swing."

And it wasn't the only time that McCain would lash out during the campaign.

Mack contacted McCain's former wife Carol in hopes of digging up dirt on McCain. An offended Carol gave McCain a heads-up about the telephone call. (She also discussed the conversation with Kolbe, who ripped Mack in a Gazette column.)

McCain confronted Mack after a subsequent campaign event.

McCain recounts in his book: "When the debate ended, I walked over to the opponent who had attempted to mine some little nasty opposition research from my failed marriage and told him with as much steel as I'm capable of demonstrating, 'If you ever try to hurt anyone in my family again, I will personally beat the shit out of you.'"

A taste of victory
McCain's strategy for winning the primary focused primarily on Scottsdale. Mack, Carlson-West and Russell's stomping grounds were Mesa and Tempe. Much to McCain's surprise, the popular longtime Scottsdale Mayor Herb Drinkwater immediately embraced his candidacy. The mayor lined up support from the rest of the City Council and other Scottsdale community leaders.

"I can't think of a single Arizonan outside the confines of my own house who was more instrumental to my election to Congress," McCain later recalled of Drinkwater, who died in 1997.

Other Arizonans helped, too. For example, former governor and senator Paul Fannin, R-Ariz., endorsed McCain. He did so at the urging of Sen. John Tower, McCain's buddy from his days in the Navy's Senate liaison office.

According to McCain, Tower helped more than anybody, breaking his own long-standing rule against backing a candidate in a competitive GOP primary to support his friend. He also intervened with Sen. Barry Goldwater, R-Ariz., after Goldwater's office criticized McCain for trying to take some credit for the then-new Apache attack helicopter that a Mesa defense contractor would build. McCain had supported the Apache as Navy liaison but later acknowledged his attempt to share in the glory of the local contract award was "a bit of a stretch." But Tower quickly issued a counter news release confirming that McCain had indeed recommended the Apache.

Russell recently recalled McCain as a hard worker and a tireless, if inexperienced, campaigner.

"He really wanted that worse than anything," Russell said. "There were several issues that he flip-flopped on. He wanted to win so badly that he'd tell people whatever they wanted to hear."

On Sept. 7, 1982, McCain finished first with 15,363 votes. Russell was second (12,500 votes), Mack third (10,675 votes) and Carlson-West fourth (9,736 votes).

According to Russell, McCain's early and effective use of television advertising helped him clinch victory. Carlson-West's decision to stay in the race also helped McCain, Russell said.

"If she had dropped out, I would have beaten McCain easily because I would have gotten almost all of her votes," Russell said. "But that's politics: timing and money and all that stuff."

The congressional district was so solidly Republican that McCain had Rhodes' seat locked up after the primary. He made short work of his Democratic opponent, Bill Hegarty, thumping him by a more than 2-1 margin in the Nov. 2, 1982, general election.

Many have told the tale of McCain winning the 1st Congressional District by wearing out three pairs of shoes, with the final pair immortalized in bronze by Cindy. McCain's footwear definitely took a beating during the race, but it was more greenbacks than soles that swept McCain into the House of Representatives.

McCain's first campaign benefited from his wife's personal wealth, some of which had been tied up in a trust set up in 1971 by her parents, Jim and Marguerite "Smitty" Hensley.

In 1981, the trust expired and was dissolved, giving Cindy a half interest in Western Leasing Co., a truck-leasing business controlled by her father, according to Trevor Potter, general counsel to the McCain 2000 presidential campaign and 2008 exploratory campaign. Potter also is a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission. Western Leasing was not the only income the McCains had in 1982. They earned a combined $130,000 in salary and bonuses from Hensley, the beer distributorship controlled by Cindy's father. John also had his Navy pension, which paid $31,000 a year.

"No one pretends that Cindy had no money at all," Potter said. "It was hers. And it wasn't something Jim (Hensley) had given her for the campaign."

Under 1982 election rules, it was legal for McCain to tap his wife's assets, as well as his own, when making personal loans to the campaign. In 1983, the rules were rewritten, with tighter guidelines on the use of family money.

In the end, including the personal loans, McCain would raise more than $550,000 to win the seat.

The 'Maverick' cometh
McCain's notoriety followed him back to Washington, D.C.

Although for the most part McCain's House years found him a fairly typical Reagan era conservative, from Day One he clearly was a little different from his peers.

In 1983, he was elected the House GOP freshman class president.

In 1985, after he had breezed to a second term the previous November, McCain returned to Vietnam with veteran CBS newsman Walter Cronkite. He got to go only after some drama. The Vietnamese government initially balked at providing McCain a visa. Once in Hanoi, Cronkite and McCain made a stop by a monument marking the fall of "the famous air pirate" blown out of the sky in 1967. McCain, the man immortalized by the landmark, mingled with Vietnamese onlookers eager to shake his hand. The McCain sequences aired on CBS as part of an hourlong special titled Honor, Duty and a War Called Vietnam.

As a representative, McCain took another vote that is of interest in retrospect.

In fall 1983, he bucked President Reagan by voting against a resolution allowing the White House to keep Marines deployed in Lebanon for another 18 months.

He denounced the policy in a House floor speech.

"I do not foresee obtainable objectives in Lebanon," McCain said. "I believe the longer we stay, the more difficult it will be to leave, and I am prepared to accept the consequences of our withdrawal."

The resolution passed. The next month, a terrorist truck bomb shattered the Marines' barracks in Beirut, killing 241 soldiers.

Reflecting on the resolution in Worth the Fighting For, McCain notes that the approval already was a done deal, "so I can hardly claim my dissenting vote was a singular act of political courage."

But there were other consequences, as McCain explains:

"It caught the attention of the Washington press corps, who tend to notice acts of political independence from unexpected quarters. My press secretary, Torie Clarke, began receiving interview requests from national print and broadcast media. Because of my POW experience, I had always enjoyed a little more celebrity than is usually accorded freshmen, but not so much that my views were solicited or even taken seriously by the national media. Now I was debating Lebanon on programs like the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour and in the pages of the New York Times and the Washington Post. I was gratified by the attention and eager for more."

U.S. News & World Report listed him a "Republican on the rise." Even Rolling Stone, the left-leaning music and pop culture magazine, praised McCain for the vote.

The 'maverick' was born.

The Senate calls

Dan Nowicki, Bill Muller
The Arizona Republic
Mar. 1, 2007 10:34 AM

John McCain had celebrity and money, and he also had another influential ally in Phoenix: Darrow "Duke" Tully, publisher of the state's largest newspaper, The Arizona Republic, and its now-defunct sister paper The Phoenix Gazette.

Upon meeting McCain, Tully regaled him with stories of his own military service as an Air Force pilot in Korea and Vietnam. The two men quickly hit it off and soon were spending a lot of time together. Cindy McCain and Tully's second wife, Pat, also got along well. Both were far younger than their husbands.

Tully had logged many hours in Air Force simulators learning how to fly F-16s. He bragged about a simulated dogfight he had with McCain on the Goldwater gunnery range in southwest Arizona.

"Duke said he had gotten John in his sights and shot him down," recalls Bill Shover, a former Phoenix Newspapers Inc. executive. "John couldn't maneuver very well because of his (formerly) broken arm."

Tully helped McCain in his first bid for congress and groomed him for higher office. Shover characterized Tully as McCain's PR man, hosting dinners to introduce him to the Valley's movers and shakers. McCain wrote guest columns for The Republic. In one of them, McCain gave a sentimental account of Christmas in Hanoi. Tully became godfather to one of McCain's children.

Although it was clear McCain had the ability, ambition and wherewithal to reach Congress on his own, Tully helped open doors. In the pages of The Republic and The Phoenix Gazette, McCain was a star.

In 1984, McCain won a second term in the House, facing only token opposition. The ever-ambitious McCain already wanted to succeed five-term Sen. Barry Goldwater, R-Ariz., who was retiring from the Senate.

McCain would follow an Arizona heavyweight - Goldwater was the 1964 Republican presidential nominee - and possibly face another.

McCain's main obstacle was Gov. Bruce Babbitt, a popular Democrat with deep family ties in the state. McCain's people decided early on that the race would be half won if they could persuade Babbitt to stay out.

"It wasn't so much a strategy as it was a reality," recalls Torie Clarke, McCain's press secretary from 1983 to 1989 who would later gain a national profile after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist strikes as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's spokeswoman. "The theory was, if we worked really hard . . . if John really could get his roots deep in Arizona, it became less and less likely that Babbitt would want to run against him."

For his part, Babbitt also had grand political plans. He wanted to run for president in 1988, two years after he would have been elected to the Senate. McCain's people kept the pressure on, making it clear that McCain planned an all-or-nothing assault on the seat. A Senate loss in 1986 would have ended Babbitt's longshot White House run before it started.

McCain personally liked Babbitt but fully intended to beat him.

"I worked hard to make a name in Arizona, and if I was not as well-known or as well-liked as the governor, I had come a long way from my beginnings as an alleged carpetbagger," McCain wrote in Worth the Fighting For, his 2002 memoir. "I also had the state's Republicans leaning in my favor, as well as an experienced campaign team, a proven track record as a competent fund-raiser, and at least as much ambition as my probable opponent. Prominent national reporters were already handicapping the contest. Ours was expected to be one of the marquee races in the country in 1986."

Not so fast.

On March 18, 1985, Babbitt made it official: He wouldn't seek Goldwater's Senate job. McCain hustled home from Washington and publicized his intention to run a day later.

In May, five-term Rep. Bob Stump, R-Ariz., a potential GOP spoiler, also took a pass, giving McCain an open field for the Republican nomination.

To face McCain, the Democrats fielded Richard Kimball, a tall, good-looking 37-year-old with an offbeat personality. The Republic and Gazette editorial pages tore into Kimball, a former state senator from Phoenix who had previous statewide office experience as a member of the Arizona Corporation Commission.

Republic columnist Pat Murphy ridiculed a Kimball position paper because it contained grammatical and spelling errors. Gazette columnist John Kolbe, now firmly in McCain's corner, also lampooned the "hapless" Kimball, saying he suffered from "terminal weirdness."

Everyone knew that Tully wanted McCain to win.

"(Tully) was really pushing John," Shover said. "He liked him. (McCain) was probably the guy Duke wanted to be. Duke was this 'Walter Mitty' type."

Walter Mitty to be sure. All of Tully's war stories were pure fiction. McCain, like everyone else, had been fooled.

Tully invented his military history to live up to the expectations of his father, whose other son had been killed in a military training accident.

In late 1985, the pressure of living the lie was building up inside Tully, causing him to drink and alienate his wife, Pat. After she filed for divorce, Tully, in his own words, "was beginning to crack up."

He began to drop not-so-subtle hints to people that he had never served in the military. Then, on Oct. 25, a concerned secretary summoned Shover to Tully's office.

Shover found Tully stepping on his plaques and certificates and throwing them into a trash can.

Determined to protect his boss, Shover told him to quietly get rid of his uniforms and to stop telling his fake war stories.

Tully refused to be quiet about it.

"It's almost like he was trying to get caught," Shover said.

Eventually, word leaked to Tully's enemies, one of whom was Maricopa County Attorney Tom Collins, who had been smacked by The Republic for taking a trip with his family at taxpayer expense.

Collins, along with freelance aviation writer Dick Rose, began to investigate Tully's background. The day after Christmas, Tully told Shover that Collins would have a press conference to expose him.

Shover drafted Tully's letter of resignation and called Indianapolis, the headquarters of The Republic's then-parent company, Central Newspapers Inc. (Gannett Co., Inc. bought the company in 2000.)

Tully's reign was over.

One of the early press calls was to McCain.

"His response was kind of like, 'Yeah, I have heard of Duke Tully. I'm sorry about what happened to him. Any other questions?'" Shover said.

Shover called McCain a political opportunist who moved quickly to distance himself from Tully.

"In other words, he walked," Shover said. "He used Duke Tully to gain what he got in his life, and he left him just when Duke needed him most."

McCain has a different take.

Part of him resented Tully's deception, but mostly McCain says he felt bad for him. And he criticizes The Republic's own coverage of Tully's "downfall" as excessive and "a little gleeful."

"In one of its numerous takes on the subject, The Republic ran a story that puzzled over my inability to spot Duke's deception, given our close relationship," McCain wrote in his 2002 book. "'Tully's lies rang true to combat flier McCain' ran the headline. Well, they also rang true to the reporters and editors of The Republic, people whose job it is to distinguish truth from falsehood. That story marked the first, but sadly not the last, episode in what can be fairly characterized as my antagonistic relationship with Arizona's leading newspaper."

McCain also thanks Tully for The Republic's editorial endorsement of his candidacy in the competitive primary race that led to his House election. The endorsement was instrumental in helping McCain break out of the GOP pack.

"I owe Duke for that. I think of him often, and not just of his unfortunate last days in Arizona. He was good company, and I miss him."

'Seizure World'
The fall of Tully threw Kimball off balance because he had sought to paint McCain as a tool of the newspaper and its publisher. For the next few months, Kimball darted and dashed around McCain, throwing a lot of punches and landing none.

McCain took Kimball seriously, though.

"We worried, we sweated, we were concerned every single day," Clarke said. "From the first to the last, until Election Day. . . . That's probably the reason John is so successful. That's the way he is."

In June 1986, McCain gave Kimball an opening. Speaking in Tucson, he jokingly referred to Leisure World as "Seizure World," the East Valley retirement community where, in the 1984 election, according to McCain's gag, 97 percent of the people voted and "the other 3 percent were in intensive care."

Kimball's response: "I am offended by his joke. It leaves me humorless." The Democrat also took the opportunity to highlight McCain's "zero rating" from the National Council for Senior Citizens. Senior citizens picketed McCain, a stunt he decried at the time as "a rather cheap political ploy by Mr. Kimball."

The "Seizure World" flap "would have passed a hell of a lot faster if I had listened to my advisers and apologized immediately and fully for my discourtesy," McCain recalls in his book. "Instead I insisted on responding to every accusation of insensitivity by launching into a litany of my steadfast support for any and all interests of concern to the elderly, without actually getting around to saying, 'I'm sorry.'"

McCain attributes the ill-advised quip to his "irremediable" personality trait of being "a wiseass."

"Occasionally my sense of humor is ill-considered or ill-timed, and that can be a problem," he conceded in his 2002 memoir. Kimball launched another series of attacks, calling McCain "bought and paid for" by special interests because much of McCain's campaign contributions came from political action committees in four industries: defense, real estate, petroleum and utilities.

Kimball also noted that McCain was a millionaire because of his wife's interests in the beer distributorship owned by her father. Kimball wasn't shy about airing the Hensley family laundry.

He had dug up old newspaper clips that showed Jim Hensley had been an underling to well-known power broker Kemper Marley Sr., a rich rancher and wholesale liquor baron with suspected links to the 1976 car-bomb murder of Arizona Republic reporter Don Bolles.

After World War II (Hensley was a bombardier on a B-17 that was shot down over the English Channel), Hensley and his brother Eugene went to work at Marley-owned liquor distributorships in Phoenix and Tucson.

In 1948, the Hensley brothers were convicted of falsifying records to conceal, government lawyers contended, the illegal distribution of hundreds of cases of liquor. The sales occurred from 1945 to 1947, postwar years when liquor was rationed and in short supply.

Eugene Hensley was sentenced to a year in federal prison. Jim Hensley got six months, but his sentence was suspended. He received probation.

In 1953, Jim Hensley was again charged with falsifying records at Marley's liquor firms. The companies were defended by William Rehnquist, who would go on to become chief justice of the Supreme Court. Hensley was found not guilty.

'Standing on a soapbox'
In late 1986, as Kimball gained ground on McCain in the Senate race, the candidates agreed to debate on television.

Because McCain was shorter than the lanky Kimball, he stood on a riser behind the podium. At one point, Kimball called him on it, saying McCain was "standing on a soapbox" to make himself look taller.

McCain was angry but kept his cool. Jay Smith, his political guru, later told a writer that McCain at that moment "wanted to kill" Kimball. The next day, he got mad all over again when he saw himself standing on the riser on the front page of The Republic.

While the debate was mostly a draw, McCain enjoyed a huge fund-raising lead, outspending Kimball nearly 4 to 1. On Election Day, McCain steamrolled Kimball, 60 percent to 40 percent.

"Far from being the marquee race everyone looked forward to when Bruce Babbitt was the presumptive Democratic candidate, my first race for the Senate was pretty close to a foregone conclusion," McCain remembers in Worth the Fighting For. "I led in the polls from start to finish. . . . (Kimball) was not the first-tier candidate that the Democrats had hoped to field."

McCain went to a downtown hotel for his acceptance speech, an event chronicled in Timberg's book.

Smith accommodated McCain with a riser from which to deliver his acceptance speech.

"Arriving at the hotel shortly after McCain, Smith saw reporters and well-wishers huddle together on the stage," Timberg wrote. "From the midst of the throng, he heard a familiar voice floating upward, thanking the voters for sending him to the Senate. Familiar but disembodied. McCain had seen the riser and kicked it aside. (McCain) had become the Invisible Man."

At home in the Senate
McCain, now 50, returned to the Russell Senate Office Building, the same place he wet his feet in the 1970s as the Navy's liaison.

Only this time he was a senator.

He also returned to the Senate Armed Services Committee. Only this time, he was a member, not a lobbyist. (The retiring Goldwater, a longtime Armed Services panelist, pushed to get McCain the spot. "John being on that committee, and I'm making darn sure he's going to get on that committee, will only lend it strength," Goldwater said during the campaign.) McCain also joined the Senate Commerce and Indian Affairs committees.

The Republic reported in February 1987 that "four likely Republican presidential aspirants are sparring to capture Arizona freshman Sen. John McCain as a key adviser and supporter of their 1988 campaigns." The quartet "wooing" McCain consisted of Vice President George H.W. Bush; Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan.; Rep. Jack Kemp, R-N.Y.; and former Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker, R-Tenn.

By 1988, after Bush had secured the GOP nomination, McCain was among Bush's rumored choices for running mate.

"Before Dan Quayle came popping out on the dock in New Orleans, the last name eliminated for consideration by the AP wire was John McCain," said Scott Celley, a McCain aide at the time.

McCain is not so sure: "I had clearly made the press's short list," but the Bush campaign never contacted him about the running-mate job.

McCain, however, did get to deliver a televised national speech at the Republican convention, although outgoing President Ronald Reagan's famous "shining city on a hill" address of the same night overshadowed his remarks.

Early in the Bush administration, McCain emerged as one of the most passionate defenders of his friend John Tower, the former senator from Texas who was the president's pick for Defense secretary.

Tower came under attack from not only Democrats but from social conservatives who denounced him over alleged excessive drinking and marital infidelity. The episode marked an early chapter in McCain's rocky relationship with the Republican Party's evangelical wing. In his book, McCain slams Paul Weyrich, a religious conservative who emerged as one of Tower's chief detractors and who remains a GOP activist, as "a pompous self-serving son of a bitch."

The Senate rejected the Tower nomination, but McCain's stature continued to swell.

But in October 1989, his world came crashing down.

The Keating Five

Dan Nowicki, Bill Muller
The Arizona Republic
Mar. 1, 2007 10:41 AM

As a war hero and U.S. senator, John McCain has been chronicled in pictures.

There are grainy mug shots of a young McCain, printed in U.S. newspapers after his jet was shot down over North Vietnam. There are black-and-white images of his return, grinning and waving.

In happier times, there is McCain holding his newborn daughter while his wife, Cindy, smiles from her hospital bed.

But it is an innocent vacation picture that carries the reminder of the scandal that threatened his political career.

In the picture, taken in the Bahamas, McCain is seated on a bandstand while wearing an outrageous straw party hat. Next to him on the dais sits Charles Keating III, son of developer Charles H Keating Jr.

McCain calls the Keating scandal "my asterisk." Over the years, his opponents have failed to turn it into a period.

It all started in March 1987. Charles H Keating Jr., the flamboyant developer and anti-porn crusader, needed help. The government was poised to seize Lincoln Savings and Loan, a freewheeling subsidiary of Keating's American Continental Corp.

As federal auditors examined Lincoln, Keating was not content to wait and hope for the best. He had spread a lot of money around Washington, and it was time to call in his chits.

One of his first stops was Sen. Dennis DeConcini, D-Ariz.

The state's senior senator was one of Keating's most loyal friends in Congress, and for good reason. Keating had given thousands of dollars to DeConcini's campaigns. At one point, DeConcini even pushed Keating for ambassador to the Bahamas, where Keating owned a luxurious vacation home.

Now Keating had a job for DeConcini. He wanted him to organize a meeting with regulators to deliver a message: Get off Lincoln's back. Eventually, DeConcini would set up a meeting with five senators and the regulators. One of them was McCain.

McCain already knew Keating well. His ties to the home builder dated to 1981, when the two men met at a Navy League dinner where McCain spoke.

After the speech, Keating walked up to McCain and told him that he, too, was a Navy flier and that he greatly respected McCain's war record. He met McCain's wife and family. The two men became friends.

Charlie Keating always took care of his friends, especially those in politics. McCain was no exception.

In 1982, during McCain's first run for the House, Keating held a fund-raiser for him, collecting more than $11,000 from 40 employees of American Continental Corp. McCain would spend more than $550,000 to win the primary and the general election.

In 1983, as McCain contemplated his House re-election, Keating hosted a $1,000-a-plate dinner for him, even though McCain had no serious competition. When McCain pushed for the Senate in 1986, Keating was there with more than $50,000.

By 1987, McCain had received about $112,000 in political contributions from Keating and his associates.

McCain also had carried a little water for Keating in Washington. While in the House, McCain, along with a majority of representatives, co-sponsored a resolution to delay new regulations designed to curb risky investments by thrifts such as Lincoln.

Reluctant participant
Despite his history with Keating, McCain was hesitant about intervening. At that point, he had been in the Senate only three months. DeConcini wanted McCain to fly to San Francisco with him and talk to the regulators. McCain refused.

Keating would not be dissuaded.

On March 24 at 9:30 a.m., Keating went to DeConcini's office and asked him if the meeting with the regulators was on. DeConcini told Keating that McCain was nervous.

"McCain's a wimp," Keating replied, according to the book Trust Me, by Michael Binstein and Charles Bowden. "We'll go talk to him."

Keating had other business on Capitol Hill and did not reach McCain's office until 1:30. A DeConcini staffer already had told McCain about the "wimp" insult.

When he arrived, Keating presented McCain with a laundry list of demands for the regulators.

McCain told Keating that he would attend the meeting and find out whether Keating was getting treated fairly but that was all.

The first meeting, on April 2, 1987, in DeConcini's office, included Ed Gray, chairman of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, as well as four senators: DeConcini, McCain, Alan Cranston, D-Calif., and John Glenn, D-Ohio.

(Years later, McCain recalled that DeConcini started the meeting with a reference to "our friend at Lincoln." McCain characterized it as "an unfortunate choice of words, which Gray would remember and repeat publicly many times.")

For Keating, the meeting was a bust. Gray told the senators that as head of the loan board, he worried about the big picture. He didn't have any specific information about Lincoln. Bank regulators in San Francisco would be versed in that, not him. Gray offered to set up a meeting between the senators and the San Francisco regulators.

The second meeting was April 9. The same four senators attended, along with Sen. Don Riegle, D-Mich. Also at the meeting were William Black, then deputy director of the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corp., James Cirona, president of the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco, and Michael Patriarca, director of agency functions at the FSLIC.

In an interview with The Republic, Black said the meeting was a show of force by Keating, who wanted the senators to pressure the regulators into dropping their case against Lincoln. The thrift was in trouble for violating "direct investment" rules, which prohibited S&Ls from taking large ownership positions in various ventures.

"The Senate is a really small club, like the cliche goes," Black said. "And you really did have one-twentieth of the Senate in one room, called by one guy, who was the biggest crook in the S&L debacle."

Black said the senators could have accomplished their goal "if they had simply had us show up and see this incredible room and said, 'Hi. Charles Keating asked us to meet with you. 'Bye.'"

McCain previously had refused DeConcini's request to meet with the Lincoln auditors themselves. In Worth the Fighting For, McCain wrote that he remained "a little troubled" at the prospect, "but since the chairman of the bank board didn't seem to have a problem with the idea, maybe a discussion with the regulators wouldn't be as problematic as I had earlier thought."

McCain concedes that he failed to sense that Gray and the thrift examiners felt threatened by the senators' meddling.

'Always Hamlet'
The five senators, including McCain, seemed like a united front to Black.

"They presented themselves as a group," Black said, "and DeConcini is the dad, who's going to take the primary speaking role. Both meetings are in his office, and in both cases it's we want this, with no one going, 'What do you mean we, kemo sabe?'"

According to nearly verbatim notes taken by Black, McCain started the second meeting with a careful comment.

"One of our jobs as elected officials is to help constituents in a proper fashion," McCain said. "ACC (American Continental Corp.) is a big employer and important to the local economy. I wouldn't want any special favors for them. . . .

"I don't want any part of our conversation to be improper."

Black said the comment had the opposite effect for the regulators. It made them nervous about what might really be going on.

"McCain was the weirdest," Black said. "They were all different in their own way. McCain was always Hamlet . . . wringing his hands about what to do."

Glenn, a former astronaut and the first American to orbit the Earth, was not as tactful.

"To be blunt, you should charge them or get off their backs," he told the regulators. "If things are bad there, get to them. Their view is that they took a failing business and put it back on its feet. It's now viable and profitable. They took it off the endangered species list. Why has the exam dragged on and on and on?"

DeConcini added: "What's wrong with this if they're willing to clean up their act?"

Cirona, the banking official, told the senators that it was "very unusual" to hold a meeting to discuss a particular company.

DeConcini shot back: "It's very unusual for us to have a company that could be put out of business by its regulators."

The meeting went on. McCain was quiet. DeConcini carried the ball. The regulators told the senators that Lincoln was in trouble. The thrift, Cirona said, was a "ticking time bomb."

Then Patriarca made a stunning comment, according to transcripts released later.

"We're sending a criminal referral to the Department of Justice," he said. "Not maybe, we're sending one. This is an extraordinarily serious matter. It involves a whole range of imprudent actions. I can't tell you strongly enough how serious this is. This is not a profitable institution."

The statement made DeConcini back off a little.

"The criminality surprises me," he said. "We're not interested in discussing those issues. Our premise was that we had a viable institution concerned that it was being overregulated."

"What can we say to Lincoln?" Glenn asked.

"Nothing," Black responded, "with regard to the criminal referral. They haven't and won't be told by us that we're making one."

"You haven't told them?" Glenn asked.

"No," said Black. "Justice would skin us alive if we did. Those referrals are very confidential. We can't prosecute anyone ourselves. All we can do is refer it to Justice."

After the meeting, McCain was done with Keating.

"Again, I was troubled by the appearance of the meeting," McCain said later. "I stated I didn't want any special favors from them. I only wanted them (Lincoln Savings) to be fairly treated."

Black doesn't completely buy that argument. If McCain was concerned about Keating asking him to do things that were improper, why go to either meeting at all?

Black said McCain probably went because Keating was close to being the political godfather of Arizona and McCain still had plenty of ambition.

"Keating was incredibly powerful," Black said. "And incredibly useful."

McCain's reservations aside, Keating accomplished his goal. He had bought some time, though the price was very high.

Short-lived reprieve
A month later, the San Francisco regulators finished a yearlong audit and recommended that Lincoln be seized. But the report was virtually ignored because of politics on the bank board.

Gray was being replaced as chairman by Danny Wall, who was more sympathetic to Keating.

The audit, which described Lincoln as a thrift reeling out of control, sat on a shelf.

In September 1987, the investigation was taken away from the San Francisco office, away from Black and Patriarca. In May 1988, it was transferred to Washington, where Lincoln would get a new audit.

It was a win for Keating. A battle, not the war.

Back in San Francisco, Black was fuming.

"Clearly, we were shot in the back," he would say later.

Despite the reprieve, Keating's businesses continued to spiral downward, taking the five senators with him. Together, the five had accepted more than $300,000 in contributions from Keating, and their critics added a new term to the American lexicon: "The Keating Five."

The Keating Five became synonymous for the kind of political influence that money can buy. As the S&L failure deepened, the sheer magnitude of the losses hit the press. Billions of dollars had been squandered. The five senators were linked as the gang who shilled for an S&L bandit.

S&L "trading cards" came out. The Keating Five card showed Charles Keating holding up his hand, with a senator's head adorning each finger. McCain was on Keating's pinkie.

As the investigation dragged through 1988, McCain dodged the hardest blows. Most landed on DeConcini, who had arranged the meetings and had other close ties to Keating, including $50 million in loans from Keating to DeConcini's aides.

But McCain made a critical error.

He had adopted the blanket defense that Keating was a constituent and that he had every right to ask his senators for help. In attending the meetings, McCain said, he simply wanted to make sure that Keating was treated like any other constituent.

Keating was no ordinary constituent to McCain.

On Oct. 8, 1989, The Arizona Republic revealed that McCain's wife and her father had invested $359,100 in a Keating shopping center in April 1986, a year before McCain met with the regulators.

The paper also reported that the McCains, sometimes accompanied by their daughter and baby-sitter, had made at least nine trips at Keating's expense, sometimes aboard the American Continental jet. Three of the trips were made during vacations to Keating's opulent Bahamas retreat at Cat Cay.

McCain also did not pay Keating for some of the trips until years after they were taken, after he learned that Keating was in trouble over Lincoln. Total cost: $13,433.

When the story broke, McCain did nothing to help himself.

"You're a liar," McCain said when a Republic reporter asked him about the business relationship between his wife and Keating.

"That's the spouse's involvement, you idiot," McCain said later in the same conversation. "You do understand English, don't you?"

He also belittled reporters when they asked about his wife's ties to Keating.

"It's up to you to find that out, kids."

The paper ran the story.

In his 2002 book, McCain confesses to "ridiculously immature behavior" during that particular interview and adds that The Republic reporters' "persistence in questioning me about the matter provoked me to rage."

"I don't know how (The Republic journalists) would have reported the story had I been more civil and understanding or just more of a professional during the interview," McCain wrote.

At a news conference after the story ran, McCain was a changed man. He stood calmly for 90 minutes and answered every question.

On the shopping center, his defense was simple. The deal did not involve him. The shares in the shopping center had been bought by a partnership set up between McCain's wife and her father. (The couple also had a prenuptial agreement that separated Cindy McCain's finances and dealings from his.)

But McCain also had to explain his trips with Keating and why he didn't pay Keating back right away.

On that score, McCain admitted he had fouled up. He said he should have reimbursed Keating immediately, not waited several years. His staff said it was an oversight, but it looked bad, McCain jetting around with Keating, then going to bat for him with the federal regulators.

"I was in a hell of a mess," McCain later would write.

Meanwhile, Lincoln continued to founder.

In April 1989, two years after the Keating Five meetings, the government seized Lincoln, which declared bankruptcy. In September 1990, Keating was booked into Los Angeles County Jail, charged with 42 counts of fraud. His bond was set at $5 million.

During Keating's trial, the prosecution produced a parade of elderly investors who had lost their life's savings by investing in American Continental junk bonds.

Verdict: 'Poor judgment'
In November 1990, the Senate Ethics Committee convened to decide what punishment, if any, should be doled out to the Keating Five.

Robert Bennett, who would later represent President Bill Clinton in the Paula Jones case, was the special counsel for the committee. In his opening remarks, he slammed DeConcini but went lightly on McCain, the lone Republican ensnared with four Democrats.

"In the case of Senator McCain, there is very substantial evidence that he thought he had an understanding with Senator DeConcini's office that certain matters would not be gone into at the meeting with (bank board) Chairman (Ed) Gray," Bennett said.

"Moreover, there is substantial evidence that, as a result of Senator McCain's refusal to do certain things, he had a fallout with Mr. Keating."

Among the Keating Five, McCain took the most direct contributions from Keating. But the investigation found that he was the least culpable, along with Glenn. McCain attended the meetings but did nothing afterward to stop Lincoln's death spiral.

Lincoln was the most expensive failure in the national S&L scandal. Taxpayers lost more than $2 billion on the bailout. McCain also looked good in contrast to DeConcini, who continued to defend Keating until fall 1989, when federal regulators filed a $1.1 billion civil racketeering and fraud suit against Keating, accusing him of siphoning Lincoln's deposits to his family and into political campaigns.

In January 1993, a federal jury convicted him of 73 counts of wire and bankruptcy fraud in the collapse of American Continental and Lincoln. Keating was sentenced to 12 years and seven months in prison but served just 50 months before the conviction was overturned on a technicality. In 1999, at age 75, he pleaded guilty to four counts of fraud. He was sentenced to time served.

In the end, McCain received only a mild rebuke from the Ethics Committee for exercising "poor judgment" for intervening with the federal regulators on behalf of Keating. Still, he felt tarred by the affair.

"The appearance of it was wrong," McCain said. "It's a wrong appearance when a group of senators appear in a meeting with a group of regulators because it conveys the impression of undue and improper influence. And it was the wrong thing to do."

McCain noted that Bennett, the independent counsel, recommended that McCain and Glenn be dropped from the investigation.

"For the first time in history, the Ethics Committee overruled the recommendation of the independent counsel," McCain said. For his part, DeConcini is critical of McCain's role in the affair. The two senators never were particularly cozy, and the stress of the public scrutiny worsened their relations.

In his memoir Senator Dennis DeConcini: From the Center of the Aisle, he praises the decision to keep McCain on the hook.

"It became clear to me, and it was later confirmed by Ethics Committee members, that Bennett was attempting to dismiss the charges against McCain, and in order to appear nonpartisan, he included Glenn in this effort," DeConcini wrote with co-author Jack August. "Thanks to the three Democrats on the committee and perhaps with the help of Senator (Jesse) Helms (R-N.C.), however, the charges remained in place for all the senators under investigation. So all of us had to attend the 23-day public hearing, which was indeed a trial, before the six-member Senate Ethics Committee."

In the book, DeConcini reiterates his allegation that McCain leaked to the media "sensitive information" about certain closed proceedings in order to hurt DeConcini, Riegle and Cranston. It's a fairly serious charge. The Boston Globe revisited the Keating Five leaks in 2000. The story paraphrased a congressional investigator, Clark B. Hall, as personally concluding that "McCain was one of the principal leakers." The newspaper also reported that McCain, under oath, had denied involvement with the leaks.

McCain owns up to his mistake this way:

"I was judged eventually, after three years, of using, quote, poor judgment, and I agree with that assessment."

Overcoming scandal, moving on

Dan Nowicki, Bill Muller
The Arizona Republic
Mar. 1, 2007 10:41 AM

For many politicians, the Keating Five scandal would have been too much to overcome.

Sen. Dennis DeConcini, D-Ariz., declined to seek a fourth Senate term in 1994.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., refused to give up.

He employed a dual strategy. He would make himself accessible to any reporter anywhere who wanted to talk about the Keating Five, and he wouldn't let the controversy detract from his work as a senator.

McCain grimly marched about the country, struggling to clear his name.

"I have to say, it was not an easy time," said Torie Clarke, McCain's former press secretary. "But because of the strategy he decided to pursue . . . nobody had time to sit around and feel sorry for themselves."

McCain's hobnobbing with the press had an unexpected side effect. Reporters started to like him.

McCain always returned phone calls. He showed up for his television appearances. He was willing to go off the record to help reporters unearth certain stories. He answered questions bluntly, without much political tap dancing.

For Beltway reporters bored with bureaucrats, McCain was fresh, new and different.

"Everybody in town," Clarke said, "from the makeup artist at the local news station to the producers and directors, every reporter and every editor, loves working with John McCain because he does not stand on ceremony; he has no airs."

Going into the 1992 election, some thought McCain was in trouble and not just because of Keating.

President Bush was dropping in the polls and would lose that year to Democrat Bill Clinton.

McCain's Democratic opponent was Claire Sargent, a Phoenix community activist.

Former Republican Gov. Evan Mecham also was running for the Senate as an independent despite having been impeached and removed from office in 1988.

Mecham, a divisive and controversial figure in Arizona politics, nursed a grudge against McCain, who had joined other Arizona GOP establishment figures, including former Sen. Barry Goldwater, in calling for Mecham's resignation. (And "for which I earned the lasting enmity of some of his supporters," McCain would later note.)

Some conservative voters remained fiercely loyal to Mecham. Certain state lawmakers central to the impeachment proceedings - notably Arizona House Speaker Joe Lane, R-Willcox, and Senate President Carl Kunasek, R-Mesa - lost their seats in the immediate aftermath. (Ed Buck, the well-known activist behind a drive to recall Mecham, considered running against McCain but decided against it.)

Some Republicans worried that Mecham could act as a spoiler and throw the Senate seat to the Democrats. The McCain campaign initially sought to block Mecham from the ballot.

But McCain bounced back in 1991. Soon after the Persian Gulf War broke out, McCain was in demand. The phone began ringing off the hook the day POWs were taken.

"The Today Show called, and we started on The Today Show at four-something in the morning," said Scott Celley, a former aide. "The last thing I remember him being on was Australian Nightline, which was done here at Channel 10, a few blocks away, at close to 11 p.m. He was on television or the radio every minute of that day."

McCain became a regular on public-affairs shows, using his expertise as a former Navy pilot and POW. He quickly became a national authority on foreign affairs.

The din of the Keating Five began to lessen. McCain stayed on message, and the scandal gradually faded from the public consciousness.

The tough re-election fight McCain dreaded never panned out.

Sargent never mounted much of a campaign, though she did briefly draw national attention after making a slightly off-color observation.

"I think it's about time we voted for senators with breasts," Sargent joked. "After all, we've been voting for boobs long enough."

A few sparks did fly between McCain and the ever-combative Mecham, who also happened to be a former prisoner of war held by the Germans during World War II. At a news conference, Mecham accused McCain of "selling out his fellow POWs" and participating in a government coverup concerning U.S. servicemen abandoned in Southeast Asia.

McCain called Mecham's allegation "the kind of contemptuous lie which the people of Arizona have sadly come to expect in any of Mecham's political campaigns."

It made for entertaining political theater, but Mecham ultimately had little impact on the ballot-box results. His day in Arizona politics had passed.

Even in a race split three ways, McCain swept up 56 percent of the votes to clinch his second term. Mecham finished behind Sargent.

"The pictures of me cavorting on a Bahamian beach with Charlie that I had anticipated seeing in Arizona newspapers never made an appearance in the campaign," McCain reflects in his 2002 memoir Worth the Fighting For. "(Fellow Keating Five member) John Glenn also was re-elected."

In 1995, The Nightingale's Song lionized McCain. The book examined the military and political careers of McCain and four other Annapolis graduates: Robert McFarlane, John Poindexter, Oliver North and James Webb, who in 2006 would win a hard-fought race against Sen. George Allen, R-Va.

In anticipation of McCain's 2000 presidential run, author Robert Timberg spun the McCain portion of The Nightingale's Song into its own book. John McCain: An American Odyssey still stands as the most authoritative McCain biography on the shelves.

Timberg penned this coda about the Keating Five:

"Stripped of the veneer of sleaze that coated the affair, McCain's defense of his actions was solid and credible. It didn't matter. The Keating Five label endured, shabby journalistic shorthand that made up in simplemindedness what it lacked in precision."

On Election Night 1992, the triumphant McCain told The Arizona Republic: "I think this puts the issue behind me, yes, politically."

By 1996, McCain's image had recuperated to the point where the vice presidential candidate chatter resumed. This time, McCain was a rumored front-runner to be Bob Dole's running mate before Dole chose Jack Kemp in his race against Clinton and Al Gore. McCain that year had strongly supported the short-lived White House bid by his friend Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas. He even served as Gramm's national campaign chairman.

The Keating Five scandal, which never was easy to understand or explain, wasn't even much of a factor in McCain's 2000 presidential bid and barely comes up anymore.

McCain knows it will never disappear altogether.

"Despite my recovery, the Keating Five experience was not one that I have walked away from as easily as I have other bad times," McCain wrote in 2002. "Twelve years after its conclusion, I still wince thinking about it and find that if I do not repress the memory, its recollection still provokes a vague but real feeling that I had lost something very important, something that was sacrificed in the pursuit of gratifying ambitions, my own and others', and that I might never possess again as assuredly as I once had."

'I'm Cindy, and I'm an addict'
By the early 1990s, McCain's political rehabilitation seemed complete, but the Keating Five fallout would continue to overshadow his personal life and affect his relationship with the local media.

In August 1994, a group of Valley journalists received an unusual phone call from Jay Smith, McCain's political strategist.

They were offered an exclusive story in exchange for agreeing to certain terms. They would attend individual interview sessions Aug. 19 and sit on the story until Aug. 22. The five journalists - three print reporters, a television reporter and a radio reporter - agreed.

One by one, they went to the McCain home, where they heard an incredible story.

Cindy McCain, 40, told them that she had been a drug addict for three years. From 1989 to 1992, as the Keating Five made headlines, she was addicted to Percocet and Vicodin. Worse, she had stolen pills from the American Voluntary Medical Team, a relief organization that she founded to aid Third World countries.

"More than anything, I wanted to be able to face my children, for them to know I wasn't lying to them," she said at the time. "They're too young to fully understand right now, but someday they will."

Cindy blamed two back surgeries and the Keating Five scandal - a blend of physical and emotional pain - for hooking her on drugs.

Things started to unravel when a Drug Enforcement Administration audit found irregularities in the charity's records, prompting an investigation, Cindy told the reporters.

In 1992, as the Keating affair surfaced again during McCain's run for a second Senate term, Cindy's parents confronted her about her drug use.

What had been clear to Cindy's parents was lost on McCain, who said he had not noticed his wife's addiction.

"I was stunned," McCain said at the time. "Naturally, I felt enormous sadness for Cindy and a certain sense of guilt that I hadn't detected it. I feel very sorry for what she went through, but I'm very proud she was able to come out of it. For her, it was like the Keating affair had been for me, a searing experience, and we both came out stronger. I think it has strengthened our marriage and our overall relationship."

The late Phoenix Gazette political columnist John Kolbe helped break the story.

His Aug. 25, 1994, column was headlined and led with a powerful quote:

"I'm Cindy, and I'm an addict."

Kolbe also drew a straight line between Cindy's drug predicament and the Keating Five stress.

"As the family bookkeeper, she was unable to find records of her reimbursement to Keating for three vacation trips to the Bahamas on Keating's corporate plane," Kolbe wrote. "The apparent lack of reimbursement - which wasn't resolved until the records turned up months later - became a key ethical charge against the senator."

Cindy explained to Kolbe: "It wasn't my fault, but at the time, you couldn't convince me. (Senate Ethics Committee Chairman) Howell Heflin (D-Ala.) even told me it was my fault."

To avoid prosecution on drug charges, she would enter a federal diversion program.

In telling her story, Cindy got choked up when she told of federal drug agents knocking on her door, asking about missing pills.

The reporters were sympathetic.

Cindy had always been physically fragile. She suffered two miscarriages early in her marriage to McCain until doctors determined she was a "DES baby." Cindy's mother had been given the drug diethylstilbestrol during her pregnancy.

During the 1940s and 1950s, DES was thought to prevent miscarriages. Instead, it caused numerous birth defects, including deformed uteruses in female offspring. Doctors finally detected the problem and took special precautions during Cindy's third pregnancy.

Even so, there were long separations because Cindy could not travel while pregnant. Besides, she preferred Arizona to Washington.

Cindy told the reporters that she finally entered The Meadows, a drug-treatment center in Wickenburg, and went to anti-dependency meetings twice a week.

In 1993, she said, a hysterectomy ended the nagging back pain that had driven her to the painkillers.

So why go public a year later?

"If what I say can help just one person to face the problem, it's worthwhile," she said. "They should know it's OK to be scared. It's OK to talk about it. And there's nothing wrong with staying home, carpooling and potty-training a 3-year-old."

Given Cindy's heartfelt confession, the handpicked journalists did what Smith expected. They painted Cindy as the victim, a courageous soldier beating back the devil of drug addiction.

"As surely as John McCain was a casualty of Vietnam, Cindy is a casualty of political life," Kolbe quoted an unnamed "friend" as saying. "But now she is fighting to save herself."

But the select group of reporters had not heard the whole story. It became apparent the next week, as more details came out.

The McCain camp had organized the interviews to head off a more negative story that was pending publication in the alternative weekly Phoenix New Times. That piece centered on a former American Voluntary Medical Team employee who accused Cindy McCain in a lawsuit of ordering him to conceal "improper acts" and "misrepresent facts in a judicial proceeding."

The accuser was Tom Gosinski, whom the charity had fired in 1993. He had tipped the DEA to check out Cindy's organization. He filed the lawsuit as a warning shot. His real allegation was that Cindy McCain had fired him because he "knew too much" about her drug use.

The details were in a 212-page report from the Maricopa County Attorney's Office that was about to become public when McCain arranged the interviews.

Ironically, County Attorney Rick Romley entered the fray at the request of McCain lawyer John Dowd, who alleged that Gosinski was extorting the McCains by offering to settle the case for $250,000.

By asking Romley to investigate, Dowd helped to create a public record that otherwise would not have existed.

The invitation-only interviews were not exactly a suave PR move. By playing favorites with the disclosure of the news, McCain created hard feelings among the Valley journalists who were not invited. They aggressively chased the story.

McCain refused to talk to reporters who were not invited to Cindy's private interviews.

Dowd, who would later defend Gov. Fife Symington, put it plainly to a Republic reporter who called him for comment:

"You're not going to talk to Cindy. You're not going to talk to me. You're not going to talk to anybody associated with us. Have you got the message?"

Then he hung up.

Meanwhile, new allegations were surfacing, feeding the press frenzy for fresh angles, especially in light of McCain's silence.

Gosinski alleged that Cindy had asked him to lie to make it easier for her to adopt a baby from Bangladesh.

Backed up by court documents, the McCains characterized the adoption (from one of Mother Teresa's orphanages) as "proper in every respect." They noted that the adoption probably saved the abandoned infant's life, as her cleft palate would not have allowed her to survive in Bangladesh.

In an Aug. 26, 1994, response to a Phoenix Gazette news article about the adoption, McCain accused the newspaper of trying to "tarnish a story of kindness with the brush of scandal."

"I will accept a great deal in public life, but I cannot accept this," McCain wrote. "I ask the reporters of The Gazette and every reporter to please take a moment to consider whether it is really in the people's interest to make a family - any family - suffer in public because they chose to live some of their happiness and their sorrow in private."

Gosinski's credibility started to slip. In Romley's report, several charity staffers said Gosinski had privately threatened to blackmail Cindy if she ever fired him.

Ultimately, Gosinski's lawsuit was dropped, and he was never prosecuted.

Cindy maintains she has avoided drugs since the scandal, which she candidly revisited in a 1999 Dateline NBC interview.

"I have done good things, and the best thing I've ever done is go into recovery and stay drug-free," she said on the TV show.

McCain becomes the 'maverick'

Dan Nowicki, Bill Muller
The Arizona Republic
Mar. 1, 2007 10:41 AM

Sen. John McCain, held up to national scorn and ridicule as a member of the Keating Five just a few years before, reinvented himself in the 1990s as one of the leading critics of money's corrupting influence on U.S. politics.

In doing so, he created rifts with deep-pocketed special interests on the right and the left and helped set the stage for an insurgent 2000 presidential campaign.

Detractors called McCain's newfound passion for reform a bit high-handed, especially coming from a man who accepted $112,000 in campaign contributions from Charlie Keating and his pals.

They also noted that McCain's stand on campaign-finance reform had not prevented him from working Washington, D.C., for campaign cash or accepting tens of thousands of dollars from corporations that are under the oversight of the Senate Commerce Committee, which McCain formerly ran and still sits on.

The panel holds sway over a number of key industries, overseeing issues such as cable and satellite television rules, airline deregulation and access to telephone long-distance markets.

McCain admits that his own involvement in the Keating embarrassment made him take a hard look at the way congressional candidates finance their campaigns. If nothing else, politicians who grovel for special-interest money tend to disgust the public, he says.

"Questions of honor are raised as much by appearances as by reality in politics, and because they incite public distrust, they need to be addressed no less directly than we would address evidence of expressly illegal corruption," McCain wrote in his 2002 memoir Worth the Fighting For.

"By the time I became a leading advocate of campaign finance reform, I had come to appreciate that the public's suspicions were not always mistaken. Money does buy access in Washington, and access increases influence that often results in benefiting the few at the expense of the many."

Jousting with the status quo
Even before making campaign-finance reform his signature issue, McCain cocked an eye at some practices viewed as business as usual on Capitol Hill.

He is a longtime foe of pork-barrel spending and government waste.

"Pork" is the name for parochial federally funded projects, defense contracts or tax-code loopholes of dubious national value that are directed to the home districts or states of influential representatives and senators.

To some Washington politicians, this is a time-honored practice that they consider essential to their continued re-election. They resist efforts to curb pork spending, which, thanks to the explosion of budget earmarks, costs taxpayers more today than ever before.

McCain calls the activity, which largely is controlled by House and Senate leaders and powerful appropriators, small-minded, "offensive" and detrimental to true national priorities, such as a strong and responsive military.

"Congress is the national legislature, not a town council, not a state assembly, and not a corporate boardroom," McCain wrote in Worth the Fighting For. "And we ought to devote ourselves to promoting those things that promote the national interest, allocating resources equitably to serve the progress of the whole society, and not fostering greater social divisions by squabbling among ourselves over who gets the bigger piece of the federal pie to the exclusion of national needs."

To combat the overspending problem, McCain helped push through a presidential line-item veto in 1995, but the courts overturned the law as unconstitutional. The line-item veto would have allowed a president to strike specific spending items in a bill while allowing the rest of the appropriations to become law. It was McCain's first big Senate victory, though ultimately it did not work out.

He continues to wage war on pork to this day, devoting part of his official Senate Web site to the concern.

In April 1994, McCain riled his colleagues with an amendment that would have eliminated free VIP parking at two Washington-area airports. The airports reserved the convenient parking spaces for members of Congress. McCain offered an egalitarian measure to open up the lots to the general public, calling it "a small gesture of respect for popular sovereignty." The Senate rejected it, with some members sneering at McCain for trying to score political points by portraying them in a bad light and fueling public cynicism.

It was not the last time McCain would get under the skin of his fellow senators.

"Honesty obliges me to confess that there is also something in my nature that enjoys throwing bricks at customs that smack of pretension, and sometimes my behavior reveals more vanity on my part than was evident in the practice I denounce," McCain acknowledged in Worth the Fighting For.

There are other examples of McCain going against the flow.

In 1983, as a member of the House, he voted against President Reagan's effort to keep Marines in Lebanon.

In 1986, while still in the House, McCain voted with a two-thirds majority to override Reagan's veto of sanctions against South Africa.

The next year, his first in the Senate, he helped stop the administration's attempt to funnel $28 million from a poverty food program into a pay raise for Department of Agriculture employees.

A 1993 Washington Post story described McCain as "a conservative with maverick instincts," but it would take his dogged pursuit of campaign-finance reform for his independent streak to fully assert itself.

Meet Russ Feingold
Campaign-finance reform picked up steam in late 1994, after McCain reached out to freshman Sen. Russell Feingold, a liberal Democrat from Wisconsin.

McCain and Feingold were as different as night and day. "He is polite, patient, self-effacing, studious, lawyerly and self-controlled, adjectives rarely applied to me," McCain would observe later. But McCain early on had detected in Feingold flashes of independence similar to his own.

Together they worked on reform legislation related to earmarks and lobbyists. They had some quick success in putting restrictions on the gifts lawmakers could accept from lobbyists and figured rewriting campaign-finance laws would not be any more difficult.

They were wrong.

Politicians, Democrats and Republicans alike, take their incumbency seriously. The Senate duo's battle to enact the new restrictions on political parties' soft money would take seven years. Feingold would become so identified with their McCain-Feingold bill that he still jokes that people think his first name is "McCain."

"Soft money" was the insider term for the limitless contributions that special interests such as corporations, labor unions or independently wealthy individuals donated to the political parties. Party officials, in turn, often used the money to bankroll attack ads on each other's candidates. Although the candidates had to abide by "hard money" restrictions on contributions, the parties did not. The "soft money" phenomenon evolved over time from a loophole in post-Watergate campaign laws. By the mid-1990s, "soft money" was saturating federal races.

McCain and Feingold had their work cut out for them. Most of the political establishment opposed, either explicitly or quietly, their crusade to clean up elections.

However, they had one big ally: the media.

Whether it was out of sympathy to the cause or simply a fascination with the David-vs.-Goliath-style struggle, McCain and Feingold became national media mainstays. By 1995, references to the "maverick Republican" McCain were ubiquitous. Some conservatives still hold the positive coverage McCain received during this period against him. Some became suspicious of his motives.

Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot eventually derisively dubbed him "John McCain (R., Media)."

McCain answered his critics in Worth the Fighting For:

"Those who criticize my reform efforts as posturing for what they disparage as the liberal East Coast media misunderstand the relationship," McCain wrote. "There is little institutional interest in reforming entrenched traditions, traditions under which most politicians have prospered handsomely. Only public opinion can force change, and the only way to arouse public opinion is through the media."

Conservative antipathy toward the media was directly connected to the Right's resistance to campaign-finance reform, according to McCain. Some GOP activists felt they needed easy access to money to bankroll paid advertising to counter what they perceive as the media's liberal drumbeat.

McCain never let go of McCain-Feingold, even as he geared up for a possible 2000 presidential race. McCain, then Commerce Committee chairman, collected campaign contributions from business interests, an irony not lost on some reform foes.

"When you're out there raising money right and left and then you're talking about how you need to reform the system, it rings a little hollow," then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., told reporters in summer 1999.

During a Dec. 5, 1999, appearance on NBC's Meet the Press, host Tim Russert threw Lott's quote in McCain's face.

"Literally every business in America falls under the Commerce Committee, and that's why the name of it is 'Commerce,'" McCain said on the Sunday morning program. "And I'm very pleased that I get support from many corporations and companies around America. And I restrict those contributions to $1,000. . . .

"It's not, Tim, the $1,000 contribution that has corrupted our work here in Washington. It's the huge, uncontrolled, now multibillion dollars in campaign contributions."

McCain promised to carry on because he believed the public was demanding reform. The backdrop of Clinton-era political scandals helped him make his case.

"Most Americans care very much that it is now legal for a subsidiary of a corporation owned by the Chinese Army to give unlimited amounts of money to American political campaigns," McCain said at one point. "Most Americans care very much that the Lincoln bedroom has become a Motel 6, where the president of the United States serves as the bellhop."

In 1999, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library took some of the sting out of the political beating that campaign-finance-reform opponents had given McCain and Feingold. It honored the duo with the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage award.

Eye on the White House

Campaign-finance reform was not the only high-profile issue McCain took on in the 1990s.

In 1995, he also targeted Big Tobacco, seeking to raise taxes on cigarettes to finance an anti-smoking advertising campaign, support health research and help states pay their smoking-related health care costs.

Special-interest money flexed its muscle here, too. The tobacco industry mounted a $40 million national advertising campaign to defeat McCain's anti-tobacco bill, and it ultimately prevailed.

"The losers are the children of America," McCain said after the bill went down.

McCain's reform efforts had yet to bear fruit. But he had made a national name for himself, and his increasingly rebellious, anti-establishment demeanor won fans across the political spectrum, particularly among independents fed up with both parties.

If his 1986 and 1992 Senate races proved anti-climactic, his 1998 re-election bid was a snoozer. McCain, then 62, didn't have to break a sweat to clinch his third Senate term. He easily defeated Democrat Ed Ranger, an environmental attorney new to politics, and two minor-party challengers.

"John McCain might have saved my friends and me a lot of time, effort and money," Ranger later would reflect in a 2001 guest column for the Los Angeles Times. "If he had only let me know he was going to be a centrist Democrat in his third U.S. Senate term, I would never have become the Democratic nominee against him in 1998."

McCain swore off "soft money" in the race, but still compiled a war chest worth more than $4.4 million. To some, the large amount of money seemed like overkill against a political unknown such as Ranger and a couple of Libertarian and Reform Party candidates.

McCain explained to The Arizona Republic that he needed the cash just in case one of the special interests he had rattled in Washington decided to take him on at home.

"I'm sure that all citizens of Arizona noticed that tobacco companies spent several millions on direct attacks on me," McCain said. "I don't know when the tobacco companies are going to go back at me again. I have to be able to respond."

Ranger's campaign barely registered with the public. Mostly, he repeatedly warned Arizona voters that McCain was preoccupied with presidential ambitions.

He was right.

The 'maverick' and President Bush

Dan Nowicki, Bill Muller
The Arizona Republic
Mar. 1, 2007 10:42 AM

President George W. Bush's inauguration was Jan. 20, 2001.

The weather in Washington was terrible.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the 2000 GOP also-ran, appeared on the stage on the Capitol's east front lawn in a see-through rain frock.

The rainy and cold celebration was about Bush, who became the 43rd president after barely edging out Vice President Al Gore. But McCain could revel in his own political rock-star status.

He returned to Washington a true political heavyweight with national and international stature.

He dominated popularity polls and television news shows.

And he had an ambitious "reform agenda" that included his trademark curbs on campaign spending, an HMO patient bill of rights and even election safeguards. America had just come through a narrow election that perhaps was best defined by Florida's infamous "dimpled chad."

McCain had other advantages, too. The new Senate was split 50-50, with Vice President Dick Cheney set to cast any deciding votes. Such circumstances lent themselves to McCain's goal of building bipartisan support for his crusades.

He transitioned easily into his new role as the No. 1 Republican counterweight to Bush.

On Jan. 22, 2001, McCain and ally Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., reintroduced the latest version of their namesake campaign-finance-reform legislation.

Co-sponsored with Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., a prominent conservative, it aimed to eliminate the unregulated "soft money" contributions to political parties. It also would crack down on corporate and union-financed television ads and other third-party commercials targeting federal candidates.

"After one of the closest elections in our nation's history, there's one thing the American people are unanimous about - they want their government back," McCain said. "We can do that by ridding politics of large, unregulated contributions that give special interests a seat at the table while average Americans are stuck in the back of the room. The Senate needs to act early on campaign-finance reform so we can achieve meaningful reform and restore the public's faith in their government."

Bush, like most of the Republican establishment, opposed the McCain-Feingold bill. McCain challenged the White House and Republicans on other fronts that year, too:

• In February, he teamed with Sens. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and John Edwards, D-S.C., on an HMO reform bill that Bush wanted stopped.

• In early May, he blasted Bush for blocking the Kyoto Protocol climate-control treaty cracking down on greenhouse gas emissions.

• On May 15, McCain joined forces with Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., for legislation that would have increased regulation of gun-show sales.

• On May 24, he reacted to the decision of Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont to change his affiliation from Republican to Independent, which tipped the Senate's balance of power to the Democrats, by telling fellow Republicans "to grow up." Jeffords, a moderate-to-liberal Republican, cited pressure and threats from party leaders as reasons he quit. "Perhaps those self-appointed enforcers of party loyalty will learn to respect honorable differences among us, learn to disagree without resorting to personal threats and recognize that we are a party large enough to accommodate something short of strict unanimity on the issues of the day," McCain said in a written statement.

• On May 27, McCain made one of his boldest moves: He cast one of only two Republican votes against Bush's $1.35 trillion tax-relief package, saying the cuts benefited the wealthy at the expense of middle-class Americans.

Jeffords' party switch heightened the scrutiny of McCain's activities. After word got out that McCain would host new Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., at his Sedona ranch, the heat turned atomic.

McCain's office rushed out this short statement on June 1: "In a visit that was discussed and planned months ago, Senator Tom Daschle and his wife are spending an evening with Senator McCain in Arizona this weekend. It is a strictly social event. Over the years Senator McCain and his wife, Cindy, have been pleased to invite many friends, Democrats and Republicans, to spend time with them at their weekend home. Bipartisan friendships are not as rare in Washington as some would believe. No one should read anything more into this. Senator McCain and Senator Daschle have known each other since 1983."

The next morning, the Washington Post dropped a front-page bombshell: "McCain is considering leaving GOP; Arizona senator might launch a third-party challenge to Bush in 2004."

Reporters Thomas B. Edsall and Dana Milbank quoted unnamed sources identified as "those close to the senator" to suggest that McCain was weighing a possible 2004 White House run "in the same way the reformist Teddy Roosevelt, McCain's hero, battled a conservative Republican, William Howard Taft, in 1912."

"Whether or not McCain leaves the GOP, he has transformed himself from quirky conservative before the 2000 campaign to spokesman for an embattled progressive wing of the Republican Party today," the Post reporters wrote. "Whatever McCain does, it is clear he will continue to be a thorn in the side of Bush, who is already weakened by the defection from the GOP of moderate Sen. James M. Jeffords of Vermont."

In the story, McCain revealed that Democrats had approached him about switching, but he was not interested. He also told the Post he did not see himself running for president again, either.

On the same day the story ran, a Saturday, McCain issued a written statement refuting its major points:

"I have not instructed nor encouraged any of my advisors to begin planning for a presidential run in 2004. I have not discussed running for president again with anyone. As I have said repeatedly, I have no intention of running for president, nor do I have any intention of or cause to leave the Republican Party. I hope this will put an end to further speculation on this subject."

It didn't.

"McCain was privately upset about news stories suggesting he was thinking of changing parties and running as an Independent in 2004," author Elizabeth Drew wrote in her 2002 book, Citizen McCain. "He worried about not only breeding suspicions about his every act, and about making the gulf between himself and the White House wider than he wanted it to be (at least at this point), but also about what all this talk was doing to his conservative base, particularly in Arizona. The answer was that it was hurting it."

Conservative critics organized an anti-McCain march in May 2001.

The next month, McCain opponents launched two separate recall drives. It was a bit tricky and probably unconstitutional because federal lawmakers are not subject to the Arizona Constitution's recall provisions. But McCain previously had pledged to abide by a recall election's results and step down if that were the voters' preference.

On June 30, 2001, critics organized "Complain against McCain" rallies in Phoenix, Tempe, Tucson and Yuma.

"I voted for him the last time around because I liked what he stood for," Tempe resident Marion Griffin told The Republic while demonstrating in the parking lot of McCain's office on South Rural Road. "But now I want him removed."

On Sept. 11, 2001, everything changed.

Terrorists piloting hijacked airliners destroyed the World Trade Center in New York and set the Pentagon ablaze. Another hijacked plane crashed in Pennsylvania on its way to Washington, D.C.

"These were not just crimes against the United States; they are acts of war," McCain said. "We will prevail in this war, as we have prevailed in the past. May God bless us in this trial, defend us and make our justice swift and sure."

That day, McCain fielded questions from 17 Arizona and national media outlets, according to the book Citizen McCain.

"I felt shock followed by anger," McCain said in Paul Alexander's book John McCain: Man of the People. "Then, obviously, I connected it with the embassy bombings in Africa, the attack on the USS Cole and other incidents, going all the way back to the bombing of the marines in Beirut."

Suddenly, McCain and his rivalry with Bush seemed very Sept. 10th.

'Reformer with results'
In the months following the Sept. 11 attacks, McCain maintained a high profile. His military background made him in demand for comment on developments on Bush's war on global terrorism.

McCain's support of Bush, his wartime commander in chief, was enough to prompt his Arizona critics to drop their attempted recall of him, but he never totally relinquished his role as a White House counterweight.

McCain wrote a widely quoted guest column in the Oct. 26, 2001, edition of the Wall Street Journal that criticized the Bush war strategy against the Taliban and the al-Qaida terrorist network in Afghanistan. The campaign needed ground troops, not just air power and military "half-measures," he wrote.

McCain, the former Navy pilot, seldom wants to rely solely on air power. It's a fundamental tenet of how McCain believes America should make war. Most presidents generally resist deploying ground troops because they inevitably mean more U.S. casualties. Time and again, McCain has argued that they are needed.

In 1999, he urged President Clinton to consider ground forces in Kosovo. Later, he would criticize Bush for not sending adequate ground forces to Iraq.

The Pentagon did not take McCain's recommendation of a ground invasion. Within a few months Defense Department strategists had to defend the lack of U.S. infantry at the historic battle of Tora Bora, where intelligence officials believe terror mastermind Osama bin Laden and key Taliban allies escaped a massive aerial bombardment.

While the war temporarily stymied much of McCain's reform agenda, he continued to work with Democrats on key issues.

For instance, McCain and Lieberman pushed through legislation to create the bipartisan and independent 9/11 Commission to investigate the intelligence and security failures that allowed the terrorist strikes to succeed. He also was instrumental in the post-Sept. 11 law that federalized airport security under the new Transportation Security Administration.

His coverage remained positive. The Feb. 4, 2002, issue of The New Yorker featured a lavish profile of him. He appeared regularly on Imus in the Morning, The Tonight Show and similar programs. Later in the year, McCain would become the first sitting senator to host NBC's longtime comedy show Saturday Night Live.

The New Republic and The Washington Monthly published essays speculating that McCain might run against Bush in 2004 as a Democrat and temporarily reignited the chatter about his future political plans.

By February 2002, he and Feingold were ready to jumpstart their campaign-finance-reform bill. The national furor over the unfolding Enron Corp. corruption scandal helped give the legislation new life.

McCain's House allies got campaign-finance reform back on track with a rarely used "discharge petition." The measure passed the Senate but had stopped moving in the House. The discharge petition, which required 218 signatures, forced a vote.

The House voted 240-189 on Feb. 14 to pass its version of McCain-Feingold, known as Shays-Meehan after House sponsors Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., and Marty Meehan, D-Mass. On March 20, the Senate adopted the House-passed version on a 60-40 vote.

"Something of enormous, historic significance had happened," Drew wrote in Citizen McCain. "After many long years of stalemate and frustration, the Congress had approved legislation to remove the most egregious, corrupting element of the campaign-finance system. It wasn't a perfect bill, as McCain kept saying, and of course people would try to find ways around it, as they always do with any regulatory law. Most of the unintended consequences predicted by critics had been considered by the bill's backers, but they thought the possible tradeoffs worth it. Other problems in the campaign finance system remained to be addressed. But something had taken place in both the Senate and the House that, a little over a year before, few had thought possible."

When Bush signed the bill into law on March 27, there was no Rose Garden ceremony, which some viewed as a snub of McCain. McCain's written statement was terse: "I'm pleased that President Bush has signed campaign finance reform legislation into law."

It was McCain's greatest legislative victory.

Foes immediately challenged the law's constitutionality, which the Supreme Court upheld in a controversial 5-4 decision in 2003. A new challenge is pending.

To borrow the line from Bush's 2000 presidential campaign, McCain, too, was now a "reformer with results."

'A clear and present danger'
As the Bush administration made its case for pre-emptive war against Iraq, which was then suspected of stockpiling chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction, McCain became a top national spokesman for "regime change."

Speaking Oct. 10, 2002, on the Senate floor, McCain called Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein "a megalomaniacal tyrant whose cruelty and offense to the norms of civilization are infamous." Saddam's government, McCain warned, "is a clear and present danger to the United States of America."

McCain demanded Saddam's removal during the debate over the Iraq war resolution:

"He has developed stocks of germs and toxins in sufficient quantities to kill the entire population of the earth multiple times. He has placed weapons laden with these poisons on alert to fire at his neighbors within minutes, not hours, and has devolved authority to fire them to subordinates. He develops nuclear weapons with which he would hold his neighbors and us hostage.

"No, this is not just another self-serving, oil-rich potentate. He is the worst kind of modern-day tyrant - a conscienceless murderer who aspires to omnipotence who has repeatedly committed irrational acts since seizing power. Given this reality, containment and deterrence and international inspections will work no better than the Maginot Line did 62 years ago."

The Senate voted 77-23 to adopt the Iraq resolution. The House already had passed it 296-133.

The United States was headed toward what would become its most controversial military adventure since the Vietnam War.

The 'maverick' goes establishment

Dan Nowicki, Bill Muller
The Arizona Republic
Mar. 1, 2007 10:32 AM

"A rebel without a cause is just a punk. Whatever you're called - rebel, unorthodox, nonconformist, radical - it's all self-indulgence without a good cause to give your life meaning."

- Sen. John McCain in his 2002 memoir, Worth the Fighting For.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is synonymous with "maverick," but he says he never cared much for the media term even when it was applied as a compliment.

In his book Worth the Fighting For, McCain worried that the act might be getting a little stale. McCain turned 70 in 2006.

"American popular culture admits few senior citizens to its ranks of celebrated nonconformists," he wrote. "We lack the glamorous carelessness of youth and risk becoming parodies of our younger selves. Witnessing the behavior can make people uncomfortable, like watching an aging overweight Elvis mock the memory of the brash young man who had swaggered across cultural color lines.

"I fear many things but only few things more than appearing ridiculous."

That anxiety has never stopped McCain from taking chances.

On Oct. 19, 2002, McCain hosted NBC's comedy show Saturday Night Live, reciting groan-worthy jokes and sharing the bill with musical guest the White Stripes.

"They tell me I'm the first sitting senator ever to host this show," McCain said in his opening monologue. "They asked President Bush to do it, but apparently he doesn't like to work on weekends. Uh ... People have asked me, 'How does spending a week up in New York hosting Saturday Night Live benefit your constituents?' And I always say the same thing, 'Shut up, Daschle, you're just jealous!'"


McCain appeared on the program as then-Attorney General John Ashcroft in a spoof of the cable TV program Hardball with Chris Matthews.

"As Americans, we will never truly be free until each and every one of us is afraid of being thrown in jail," McCain quipped while wearing an Ashcroft wig.

He also warbled a medley of Barbra Streisand hits in a mock commercial for a fictitious CD titled McCain Sings Streisand. The gag was that the liberal activist entertainer for years had tried to do McCain's job, so now he was going to take a stab at hers.

"Do I know how to sing? About as well as she knows how to govern America," McCain said.

The Streisand bit lives forever on YouTube.com.

Back in Arizona, McCain took some ribbing for missing a vote on a $355 billion defense spending bill while in New York rehearsing for SNL. Some constituents did not think that was so funny.

Still, McCain had crossed a cultural threshold.

He had become as familiar to fans of Jay Leno, David Letterman, Conan O'Brien and Jon Stewart as he was to viewers of Meet the Press.

His 2004 Senate re-election race was his easiest yet.

Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., a pork-fighting conservative in the McCain style, grabbed some headlines by suggesting he may make a primary run against McCain, but even he readily acknowledges that McCain would have stomped him had he gone through with it.

In the general election, McCain captured nearly 80 percent of the vote against unknown Democrat Stuart Starky, who was widely viewed as his party's sacrificial lamb.

Over the next few years, McCain would make cameos in the TV thriller 24 and the raunchy big-screen comedy Wedding Crashers. After McCain drew fire for appearing in the R-rated 2005 film with Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, he joked to Leno: "In Washington, I work with boobs every day." (The joke rang a bell with old-timers: His 1992 Senate opponent, Claire Sargent, was widely quoted in her call for "senators with breasts" because "we've been voting for boobs long enough.")

McCain's cameo in Wedding Crashers was so brief and innocuous that it is a little surprising that anybody made a fuss.

Also in 2005, cable's A&E network ran a dramatized version of McCain's 1999 book, Faith of My Fathers, starring actor Shawn Hatosy as McCain, Troy Ruptash as his fellow POW and friend Bud Day and an old Falstaff beer brewery in New Orleans as the Hanoi Hilton.

And at some point, a goal that once seemed out of reach suddenly came back into focus: the White House.

'Are you freaking out on us?'
"I did not get to be president of the United States," McCain wrote in his 2002 book, Worth the Fighting For. "And I doubt I shall have reason or opportunity to try again."

But as early as 2004, news stories speculated McCain was well-positioned as a front-runner for the 2008 Republican nomination.

By 2006, McCain was ramping up for another possible campaign.

This time, he would have to mount a different strategy. He would not be the underdog. And one of 2000's big lessons was that a Republican candidate cannot ride the support of independents, Democrats and media to victory in the GOP primary process.

McCain, the media-adored "maverick," would need to redefine himself as an establishment Republican candidate.

"In 2000, he could do the Straight Talk Express and choose to be hip," said McCain biographer Robert Timberg, a former Baltimore Sun reporter and author of The Nightingale's Song and John McCain: An American Odyssey. "When you really have a chance to win, things change."

Winning back the conservatives would not be easy. He had alienated them with his 2000 presidential run, his post-election rivalry with President George W. Bush and with his assorted crusades and bipartisan legislative efforts. The explosion of the partisan blogosphere gave McCain's critics on the right an influential voice.

Many continue to mistrust McCain, who more recently became, with Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., one of the big champions of a comprehensive guest worker and immigration reform plan. Although President Bush supports the legislation, many conservatives denounce its pathway to citizenship provisions as "amnesty" for illegal aliens. McCain argues that his proposal is not "amnesty" because it would force illegal immigrants to take steps to fix their situation, including paying fines and back taxes. A version of McCain's plan passed the Senate in 2006 but crashed in the House.

By this point, McCain had made several moves to polish his conservative credentials, but it really took the revelation that he intended to speak at the May 2006 commencement ceremony at the Rev. Jerry Falwell's Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., for the media to really notice.

In February 2000, McCain famously denounced Falwell, the televangelist founder of the 1980s special-interest group Moral Majority, as one of the right's "agents of intolerance."

To many of McCain's admirers, it looked like he was pandering to Falwell by agreeing to speak.

Jon Stewart of Comedy Central's The Daily Show wondered if the Straight Talk Express had "been rerouted through Bull (expletive) Town."

"Are you freaking out on us?" Stewart wanted to know.

"Just a little," McCain responded.

Blogger Andrew Sullivan, a McCain fan, moaned that the McCain-Falwell summit was "too depressing for words."

"Falwell is rightly a pariah for his outright bigotry on a whole range of issues," he wrote.

Falwell told the Lynchburg News & Advance that his feud with McCain was over.

"We dealt with every difference we have," Falwell said. "There are no deal breakers now. But I told him, 'You have a lot of fence mending to do.'"

On the April 2 airing of NBC's Meet the Press, host Tim Russert worked McCain over:

Russert: "Do you believe that Jerry Falwell is still an agent of intolerance?"

McCain: "No, I don't. I think that Jerry Falwell can explain to you his views on this program when you have him on."

Russert: "After September 11th, let me show you what ..."

McCain: "Go ahead. Yeah."

Russert: "... Reverend Falwell had to say: 'What we saw on (Sept. 11, 2001), as terrible as it is, could be miniscule if, in fact, God continues to lift the curtain and allow the enemies of America to give us probably what we deserve. ... I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists and the feminists, and the gays and lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle ... I point the finger in their face and say, 'You helped this happen.'"

McCain: "You'll have to ..."

Russert: "Are you embracing that?"

McCain: "I am speaking at the graduation of his university. I'm not embracing all of the tenets that are expressed at (The New School) in New York City nor other liberal universities and institutions that I have spoke at. For example, I don't agree with the Ivy League colleges barring recruiters, military recruiters, from their campuses, but I still speak there."

Russert: "Are you concerned that people are going to say, 'I see. John McCain tried Straight Talk Express. Maverick. It didn't work in 2000, so now, in 2008, he's going to become a conventional, typical politician, reaching out to people that he called agents of intolerance, voting for tax cuts he opposed, to make himself more appealing to the hard-core Republican base.'"

McCain: "I think most people will judge my record exactly for what it is, where I take positions that I stand for and I believe in. Whether it be climate change, whether it be torture or whether it be a number of other issues with which I am (working on). Immigration. I don't think that my position on immigration is exactly pleasing to the far right base. I will continue to take positions that I believe in and I stand for. And I recognize that a lot of my credibility is based on that, and I think most Americans will judge me by my entire record."

On April 6, the Christian Science Monitor ran a story headlined "Political risk of John McCain's rightward pitch."

Social conservative Paul Weyrich, who years earlier had helped snuff the chances of McCain's friend John Tower to become Defense secretary, took aim at McCain.

"Everybody understands he hates the Christian right," Weyrich said. "That's a real problem."

(For his part, McCain describes Weyrich in his Worth the Fighting For book as "the embodiment of the caricature often used to malign all religious conservatives.")

The Monitor also quoted a political scientist to provide some insight into McCain's strategy.

"It seems what McCain is doing is the classic move that Richard Nixon patented - run right during the primaries, then run center for the general," Bruce Buchanan of the University of Texas at Austin told the publication. "He's doing what he has to do. To a purist it doesn't smell right, but find me someone who hasn't done that who won."

In the much-anticipated May 13 speech at Liberty, McCain defended his support of the ongoing Iraq war, which had become a political liability. The weapons of mass destruction that McCain, Bush and others believed Saddam had possessed never materialized. The post-Saddam Iraqi government was unable to take over its own security.

"War is an awful business," McCain said, but he "believed, rightly or wrongly, that my country's interests and values required it."

McCain urged Americans who disagreed to debate in a civilized manner and remember that he is doing only what his conscience dictates.

Students at other, more politically progressive colleges, took McCain up on his offer to "state their opposition," not just to the war but also to planned McCain speeches on their campuses.

A "John McCain Does Not Speak For Me" protest greeted McCain May 16 at New York's Columbia University, but heavy rain largely spoiled the demonstration.

A rowdy confrontation a few days later at The New School in New York City garnered significant news coverage and blog chatter. Jean Rohe, a 21-year-old graduating student, spoke before McCain came to the microphone, sharply criticized him and for about 15 minutes was a minor hero to anti-war liberals.

Other disruptions marred McCain's New School speech.

Boos. Catcalls. Jeers.

Teachers and students turned their backs to McCain as he talked.

"I've got to say that maybe the students at The New School could learn a lesson in courtesy from the students at Liberty University," McCain later told the Associated Press. "I was saddened that these young people live in such a dull world that they don't want to hear the views of someone who disagrees with them."

War's eerie specter
McCain set up his 2008 presidential exploratory committee on Nov. 15, 2006, eight days after Democrats recaptured the House and Senate in midterm elections heavily influenced by the Iraq war.

In a speech the next day to the conservative group GOPAC, McCain lectured Republicans over "hypocrisy" and for failing to live up to the principles that propelled them to office.

He chided them for rampant pork-barrel spending, which had increased under GOP rule, and swelling the size of government "in the false hope that we could bribe the public into keeping us in office."

"We lost our principles and our majority," McCain said. "And there is no way to recover our majority without recovering our principles first."

The unpopular Iraq war, which McCain championed and still supports, also played a part in the American public's rejection of Capitol Hill Republicans.

It is Iraq, not Vietnam, that is overshadowing McCain's 2008 White House aspirations.

Before the Iraq war, McCain was one of the nation's most vocal hawks. He continues to support its goals. But as the war drags on, McCain does not hesitate to point out what he considers to be problems with the Bush administration's prosecution.

Early on, McCain warned that U.S. troop levels were insufficient.

In December 2004, McCain said he had lost confidence in then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

McCain appeared in Eugene Jarecki's 2005 anti-war documentary Why We Fight, although he later griped that the filmmaker edited his remarks in such a way as to make it look like he was suggesting Vice President Dick Cheney was corrupt. The film theorizes that the Iraq war is the realization of President Dwight Eisenhower's 1961 warning about the rise of the military-industrial complex.

On Aug. 22, 2006, McCain blamed the administration for not talking straight to the American people about the sacrifices that war demands and for soft-pedaling the tenacity of the insurgency.

"We had not told the American people how tough and difficult this could be," McCain said during a campaign stop in Ohio for embattled Republican Sen. Mike DeWine. "It has contributed enormously to the frustration that Americans feel today because they were led to believe this could be some kind of day at the beach, which many of us fully understood from the beginning would be a very, very difficult undertaking."

In a recent Washington Post interview, McCain said of the war: "One of the most frustrating things that's ever happened in my political life is watching this train wreck."

And he told the Politico.com Web site that Cheney, along with Rumsfeld, deserves blame for Iraq's "witch's brew."

"Of course, the president bears the ultimate responsibility, but he was very badly served by both the vice president and, most of all, the secretary of Defense," McCain said.

Still, the critical, sometimes harsh remarks are not enough to offset the public perception of McCain as one of the Iraq war's premier cheerleaders, particularly after Bush finally took McCain's advice on U.S. troop levels.

In a nationally televised Jan. 10 speech, Bush announced that he was sending 21,500 more soldiers to violence-torn Baghdad and Anbar province.

"McCain owns Iraq just as much as Bush does now," said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

McCain is unbowed in his push for victory in Iraq even at the expense of his presidential bid.

"I'd rather lose a campaign than lose a war," McCain told CNN on Jan. 10.

Abandoning Iraq now could lead to future U.S. involvement in "a wider war in the world's most volatile region," he said in a statement delivered Jan. 12 to the Senate Armed Services Committee. McCain challenged critics of the president's "New Way Forward" plan to "indicate what they would propose to do if we withdraw and Iraq descends into chaos."

In other words, if the United States runs from Iraq now, it inevitably will return later under even more dire conditions.

Still, McCain stresses he cannot guarantee that the extra troops will mean success. He has suggested that the Iraqi government meet "benchmarks" to ensure continued U.S. military support, which could open an exit.

Democrats were quick to saddle McCain with the troop increase, which polled badly with Americans.

The Democratic National Committee dubbed the strategy the "Bush-McCain War Escalation."

"We never should have gone there in the first place. Sen. McCain bears some responsibility for supporting the president when we went," Howard Dean, DNC chairman, said in a CNN interview. "His prescription for getting out is no prescription for getting out. The American people have already rejected the stay-the-course position of Sen. McCain and President Bush. We need new leadership in this country, and that's what the presidential election is going to be about in 2008."

Former Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., a possible Democratic presidential candidate, derisively called the troop increase "the McCain Doctrine."

McCain countered that it is the "the McCain Principle" that lawmakers who vote "to send young American men and women into harm's way" must commit to accomplishing the mission.

"The irony of all this for me is that I am the guy that for three years, more than three years, has said, 'You don't have enough troops there! And you are not running this war right! And you've got to change!'" McCain said in the Politico.com interview. "And now I find myself the object of scorn because I think we can't afford to leave."

Few doubt that the war hero McCain, the author with chief of staff Mark Salter of the books Why Courage Matters and Character Is Destiny, is doing what he believes his right.

McCain's Iraq stance also fits his longtime reputation as a hawk.

"People buy that (from McCain) because it is fundamentally a part of who McCain is," Sabato said. "Also, it makes no sense politically. You have to admire somebody for taking a stand that really doesn't help them, and I don't think this does."

Author Timberg said McCain's decision to take a position on Iraq that could hurt him politically is "perfectly consistent" for the senator who spent more than five years in a North Vietnamese prisoner of war camp.

Timberg, now editor of Proceedings, the U.S. Naval Institute's magazine, interviewed McCain dozens of times for The Nightingale's Song and John McCain: An American Odyssey. The books chronicle McCain's life from the U.S. Naval Academy to Capitol Hill.

Timberg recalled a "minor but telling" 1978 incident from McCain's days as the Navy's liaison to the Senate.

The Carter administration objected to a proposed nuclear aircraft carrier, so the Navy, which wanted it, reluctantly backed off. But McCain, the Navy's lobbyist, believed the carrier was needed and, against orders, quietly pushed for it anyway.

President Carter so opposed the $2 billion ship that he vetoed a major defense bill to stop it. Congress, again with McCain's behind-the-scenes support, came back the next year with new legislation that Carter eventually signed.

"When I asked (McCain) why he did that, he said that after the things that had happened to him in his life, he wanted to make sure things were done right," Timberg said. "He essentially was imperiling his Navy career by doing that sort of thing."

Despite Democratic efforts to present McCain as the second coming of Bush, the public likely still sees McCain, with his military record, as having more "credibility and competence" than the beleaguered president, Timberg said.

"While there is a very good chance that George Bush will face a serious backlash by virtue of his decision to send in 21,000 additional troops, I think John McCain could probably send in 50,000 more troops and the public would support him," he said.

Only time will tell if McCain, the presidential hopeful, can outrun the ghosts of war.

The front-runner?
In other respects, McCain is well positioned for the 2008 primaries.

McCain has raided the old Bush campaigns for key staff members and donors. As of January 2007, his exploratory committee had already built a formidable organization.

In December, conservative commentator Robert Novak reported that Sens. Trent Lott, R-Miss., and Pat Roberts, R-Kan., two "establishment" GOP senators, are pitching McCain to big-time Washington, D.C., corporate executives and lobbyists.

"They were selling him to establishment Republicans as the establishment's candidate," Novak wrote. "Nothing could be further from McCain's guerrilla-style presidential run in 2000 that nearly stopped George W. Bush."

Novak christened the nascent McCain machine "McCain Inc."

Still, McCain, 70, won't waltz to a coronation.

In the Republican race, he could face serious challenges from former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and a host of lesser-knowns. Despite his many recent overtures to segments of the right who have rejected his message in the past, many conservatives continue to oppose him. On the flip side, his rightward shift and war stance have driven away some of the independents and Democrats who cheered his 2000 effort.

Should he capture the nomination, he could face a Democratic heavyweight such as Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., or former North Carolina senator Edwards, the 2004 vice presidential nominee.

And the Iraq war remains the biggest wild card in McCain's deck.

In their 2006 book The Way to Win: Taking the White House in 2008, journalists Mark Halperin of ABC News and John F. Harris of the Washington Post generally give McCain good chances to prevail in what they characterize as the "Freak Show" era of American politics and media.

"Because of his ability to speak to conservatives, centrists, and even some liberals, and because of the unique power of his personal biography as a military hero, he would seem to have more potential than any of the other 2008 contenders to transcend the Freak Show, to break its cycle of political attack and retribution," Halperin and Harris wrote.

"But one should not underestimate his vulnerability to the Freak Show. McCain's opponents will try to wrest control of his public image by painting him as hypocritical, angry, and mentally unbalanced. He has been called these names before, and the consequences were as unattractive as they were effective."

But while the political analysts noted that "there rarely has been a presidential candidate in the Freak Show era who has received such fawning press coverage as McCain enjoyed during the 2000 race and beyond," the mainstream media could not save him from the relentless political bombardment in the 2000 South Carolina primary.

"If the Old Media's favorite politician can suffer such a severe challenge to his public image, there are two lessons," Halperin and Harris wrote. "First, it can happen again to McCain if he runs in 2008. And, second, it can happen to anybody."

McCain, who will turn 71 this year, had better expect the fight of his life.

Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008
The Surge At Year One
By MICHAEL DUFFY, With Mark Kukis/Baghdad

Like many retail districts in downtown Baghdad, al-Kindy Street has lately had little to offer shoppers but a fine assortment of fear, blood and death. Shootings and regular bombings have shuttered many of al-Kindy's stores, where some of Baghdad's wealthiest residents once bought everything from eggplants to area rugs. At this time last year, al-Kindy was deteriorating into just another bombed-out corner of a city spiraling out of control.

Then came the surge—President George W. Bush's controversial deployment, beginning last January, of an additional 30,000 U.S. troops, that seemed as tactically bold as it was politically unpopular. With his approval ratings ebbing and a bipartisan group of wise elders urging him to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq, Bush went in the other direction. Overcoming the opposition of the Joint Chiefs, Bush sent five additional combat brigades to secure the capital, hunt down al-Qaeda in Iraq in the countryside and, at least in theory, stop the violence long enough for the country's Sunnis and Shi'ites to find common ground on power-sharing.

The surge's successes and limits are both plainly visible on al-Kindy today. A well-stocked pharmacy has reopened. A new cell-phone store selling the latest in high-tech gadgets opened in December. A trickle of shoppers moved along the sidewalks on a recent chilly morning as a grocer, who asked that his name not be used, surveyed the local business climate. "Things are improving slightly," he said. "But not as much as we hoped." Indeed, if al-Kindy is coming back, it is doing so slowly, unevenly—and only with a lot of well-armed help. Sandbagged checkpoints stand at either end of al-Kindy, manned by Iraqi soldiers with machine guns. Iraqi police in body armor prowl back alleys and side streets to intercept would-be car bombers. U.S. military officials often point visitors to al-Kindy Street as a metaphor for what is working—and what remains undone. "We still have some work to do," says Lieut. General Ray Odierno, the No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq. "I tell everybody we've opened a window. There's a level of security now that would allow [Iraqi politicians] to take advantage of this window in time, pass the key legislation to bring Iraq together so they can move forward. Are they going to do that? In my mind, we don't know."

One year and 937 U.S. fatalities later, the surge is a fragile and limited success, an operation that has helped stabilize the capital and its surroundings but has yet to spark the political gains that could set the stage for a larger American withdrawal. As a result of improving security in Iraq, the war no longer is the most pressing issue in the presidential campaign, having been supplanted by the faltering U.S. economy. Voters still oppose the war by nearly 2 to 1, but Democrats sense the issue could be less galvanizing as troops begin to return home. Republicans who supported the surge, like Arizona Senator John McCain, have been trying out tiny victory laps lately, but because the hard-won stability could reverse itself, both parties are proceeding carefully. Interviews with top officials in Baghdad and Washington and on-the-ground assessments by Time reporters in Iraq reveal why the surge has produced real gains—but also why the war still has the capacity to cause collateral damage half a world away.

Bush's Plan—and Saddam's

It is an enduring mystery of the Bush White House that no one seems to know exactly when, how or why Bush decided to invade Iraq in 2003. But no such confusion clouds how the surge of 2007 was hatched. In December 2006, even as the Iraq Study Group was urging the President to begin a staged withdrawal from Iraq, another group of experts was putting together a very different plan. Fred Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute and retired Army General Jack Keane began calling not for a pullout but for an escalation of troops—a one-time infusion of combat soldiers to push the insurgents out of Baghdad. The Kagan-Keane plan found an eager audience at the National Security Council and with Vice President Dick Cheney. Within days, the plan had been sold to Bush, who pulled out a lot of stops to persuade the Pentagon—as well as colleagues in Congress. One Republican lawmaker, having watched his party lose control of both houses because of the war just a few months before, told Bush in a White House meeting that he would support the surge but that the strategy was a little like throwing a Hail Mary on fourth down. At about the same time, Bush told General David Petraeus, the top U.S. general in Iraq, that he would be getting additional troops.

Petraeus and his commanders had gotten a lucky break when U.S. forces raided an al-Qaeda command-and-control center in Taji, north of Baghdad. Captured in the raid, Odierno tells Time, was a map of Baghdad that outlined al-Qaeda's plan to capture and control the "belt" cities around the capital and then use those as logistical hubs and staging areas from which to mount attacks on U.S. forces inside the city. The telltale map suggested that to stabilize Baghdad, U.S. forces would also have to root out the troublemakers lurking outside the city. "A lot of people thought what we needed to do was put everybody into Baghdad to secure the population," says Odierno. "But what we really thought was causing the sectarian violence were the car bombs, the indirect fire [from mortars and rockets] and the suicide bombers. And we really thought their supply networks were in these belts."

At about the same time Odierno was targeting the Baghdad beltway, he tasked his staff to find out how Saddam Hussein had defended Baghdad against the many secret cells and gangs that wanted to upend his regime. The answer came back: Saddam had always maintained a complex perimeter around Baghdad that on paper looked like a series of concentric circles. Saddam had posted his Republican Guard in various towns that ringed the capital, and inside the city, he had stationed his Special Republican Guard. If it had worked for Saddam, thought Petraeus and Odierno, it might work for them against the insurgents.

But they had to wait. Though Bush announced the surge in January 2007, several months would pass before all 30,000 additional troops reached Iraq and took up their positions. As the troops deployed, Petraeus and Odierno mounted a string of offensive operations against al-Qaeda and insurgent strongholds all over Iraq: in Baghdad, in the belt towns and in cities deeper to the north and south. The idea was to shake the bad guys loose and then chase them down. Even with the extra troops, Odierno and Petraeus didn't have the forces to do this everywhere, but they dispersed their forces so widely that it seemed that way for a while.

Some of the initial results worried Odierno: U.S. casualties in May and June—227 killed—were so high that even he thought he might have miscalculated. But over the summer, the landscape began to change. In Baghdad, GIs moved out of their relatively safe megabases on the outskirts and into smaller bases in the city's violent neighborhoods—to live, form networks and walk patrols. Following Saddam's model, Odierno split his troops between Baghdad and the belt towns on a 3-to-2 basis: 3 soldiers inside the capital for every 2 outside the city. By the end of June, the generals began to notice that sectarian attacks were decreasing.

Antagonists Become Allies

Petraeus and Odierno also realized early on that the insurgents could never be defeated the old-fashioned way. "You cannot kill your way out of an insurgency," Petraeus tells Time. "You're not going to defeat everybody out there. You have to turn them." And many of America's enemies were ripe for turning. Before the surge, elements of al-Qaeda in Anbar province were carrying out grisly atrocities against local Sunnis, including women and children, who refused to join the jihad against Americans. The Sunnis approached the Americans for help, and Petraeus was happy to oblige. The local uprising against al-Qaeda is known as the Anbar Awakening, and it gave the U.S. a model for turning local tribes, clans and whole neighborhoods against the insurgents.

Sometimes the incentive has been simply the will to survive; at other times, the U.S. has rushed cash, logistical help and weapons to local militias in exchange for registration of their names and retinal IDs with U.S. officials. Over the past year, the U.S. has sanctioned more than 125 local proxy armies, an ad hoc force of at least 60,000 that one could call "the other surge." Known as Concerned Local Citizens groups (CLCS), these militias serve as watch groups, police forces and eyes and ears for U.S. forces all over Iraq. But while American commanders are delighted to have help, not all Iraqis are comfortable with the CLCS. Many in the Shi'ite-led Iraqi government worry that the citizens groups—which are mostly Sunni and in some cases are little better than street gangs—will eventually morph into antigovernment militias. Lately al-Qaeda has stepped up attacks on Sunnis who take up arms with the Americans.

As former Sunni insurgents have made common cause with the U.S., one of Iraq's largest Shi'ite factions has been eerily quiet. In late August, for reasons that are still a little mysterious, Muqtada al-Sadr ordered his Mahdi Army to desist from attacking U.S. forces. U.S. officials believe al-Sadr's move was less about helping the U.S. than about purging unruly elements from his 60,000-man militia. Another interpretation is that al-Sadr is simply waiting out the surge and that his fighters will return to the fray when U.S. troops have withdrawn. Whatever the reason, Odierno reckons that al-Sadr's cease-fire is responsible for a 15%-to-20% reduction in attacks on U.S. forces over the past year. U.S. military officers are now in touch with their counterparts at all levels of al-Sadr's operation, trying to persuade them to join the peaceful coalition, as some Sunni tribes have done. But whether that invitation will be accepted—or how long the cease-fire will hold—is anyone's guess.

The surge's proponents say the main reason Iraq is quieter now than it was a year ago is that Odierno and Petraeus simply kept after the bad guys. "They went after about every safe haven at the same time," notes Kagan. "They followed up, they didn't give the enemy time to regroup and set up command-and-control centers." The strategy has been costly: 901 American troops died in Iraq in 2007, the deadliest year for U.S. forces since 2004. But Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence has dropped dramatically since the surge began, and U.S. fatalities decreased from 126 in May to 23 in December.

How Long Can It Last?

One of the most striking changes of 2007 is the relative candor with which U.S. military officers now talk about Iraq. Unlike most of their starry-eyed predecessors, when asked, Petraeus and Odierno are quick to list what isn't working well. Iraqi security forces remain unable to mount operations without the logistical help of U.S. forces. Al-Qaeda in Iraq is on the run, but it has not been routed, and it still enjoys free rein in some parts of the country. Murder, death threats and kidnappings are still commonplace; more than 100,000 sections of concrete car-bomb barriers now snake around Baghdad's neighborhoods. And in something of an understatement, even Petraeus calls the progress toward political reconciliation "tenuous." The largest Sunni bloc in parliament, known as the Accordance Front, walked out in August. In January, the parliament passed a measure that would extend to former Baathists and supporters of Saddam a measure of eligibility for service in the new government, which is largely controlled by Shi'ites. The move was long overdue, and no one knows whether the measure will ever be implemented; Sunnis are skeptical, and so, at times, is Washington. "We nudge. We push. We prod. We pull. We cajole," says U.S. ambassador Ryan Crocker. But he adds that the Iraqis "have to make the decision."

And that's the trouble. "The big problem remains that you've got a central government that is dysfunctional and disorganized, and that's being kind," says Representative Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican and a member of the House Armed Services Committee, who has been to Iraq seven times. Cole believes that the only thing that will compel Iraq's various factions to work together is the threat of U.S. withdrawal—something the Iraq Study Group proposed more than a year ago.

In fact, that's already happening. Several thousand troops involved in the surge have quietly begun to pull out. For now, Petraeus and Odierno are sticking by their plan to draw down U.S. forces by roughly 4,000 troops a month through July. Left unchanged, that would return U.S. forces close to their pre-surge level. But both men caution that it could be halted if violence flares up. Petraeus says further withdrawals depend on a matrix of unknowns: military and economic conditions, and whether the Iraqis are showing signs of governing themselves.

Uncertainties of that size make it impossible to know where the U.S. will be in Iraq in six months, and that's something the presidential candidates would be better off not trying to predict. Iraq is an undoubtedly safer, better place than it was 12 months ago. Yet the ultimate outcome in Iraq is out of the hands of Petraeus and the U.S. military. After a yearlong surge, the U.S. is about to move from the relatively safe ground of betting on its troops to betting on Iraqis. And that's a very different kind of wager.


Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2008
The Resurrection of John McCain
By James Carney

In war and in politics, John McCain has endured more than his share of near-death experiences. He's been shot out of the sky and held captive, hung from ropes by his two broken arms and beaten senseless. This is his second run for President; he lost before, has nearly lost again and has been all but disowned by his party. So on the night of South Carolina's Republican primary, when the victory he needed to keep his campaign alive seemed as if it might be slipping away once again, McCain stood silent amid the chaos of his crowded hotel suite, his eyes fixed on the television screen. The normally loquacious Senator, who is rarely silent and hates to miss a punch line, was tuning the rest of the room out. Rumors that the primary was about to be called for McCain had fizzled, supplanted by whispers that Mike Huckabee had taken a slim lead in the ballot count. For a moment, it all seemed as though it were going to fall down again.

But the announcement came: "McCain wins South Carolina!" The room erupted in cheers; McCain's wife Cindy dissolved into tears; and the candidate's pale, scarred, 71-year-old face spread into a triumphant grin. "Whether it was because of what happened eight years ago in South Carolina or because his campaign was declared dead last July, I don't know," says Mark Salter, McCain's adviser, speechwriter and alter ego. "But he was as happy as I've ever seen him." The old warrior in McCain has learned to savor every battle won because he knows it could be the last.

McCain has traveled a long road to get where he is now, positioned as the ever-so-slight front-runner for the Republican Party's presidential nomination. Last summer his once formidable campaign all but collapsed in debt and acrimony, with even his closest friends and advisers questioning whether he should bother marching on.

Now having won two important early contests (New Hampshire came first), McCain finds himself burdened with the front-runner label for the second time in a month, the third time in the past year and the fourth time since the 2000 primaries, when he challenged, briefly triumphed over and then was crushed in South Carolina by George W. Bush. Up to this point in McCain's career as a presidential candidate, becoming the man to beat has meant, inexorably, that he was about to be beaten.

Whether that history repeats itself may depend on Florida, where the G.O.P. primary is a closed affair. That means no independents or crossover Democrats, the voters who secured McCain's victories in New Hampshire and South Carolina, are permitted to cast ballots. If McCain does manage to win in such a pure party contest, it could be enough to persuade Republicans, desperate for clarity in this wild election cycle, to rally around him. "Florida is turning out to be the decisive state for the Republican Party," says Scott Reed, who ran Bob Dole's 1996 campaign. "Whoever comes out on top is going to have a tremendous amount of momentum."

Maybe. But John McCain has been in presidential politics long enough to know that there is always the McCain exception to every rule. After he decisively beat former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney in neighboring New Hampshire, McCain's low-budget campaign expected a windfall of fresh donations to help propel it forward. But the haul was disappointing; donors still weren't ready to buy in to a candidate they view as too much of a risk. The towering obstacle between McCain and victory is not so much his rivals for the nomination but the suspicion long held by many Republicans, especially rock-ribbed conservatives, that the Senator and former war hero is too much the maverick on issues that matter deeply to them to be trusted to occupy the White House.

G.O.P. Jitters
Conservative fears about McCain are often irrational: through a 25-year career in Congress, first in the House and then in the Senate, McCain has proved himself consistently pro-life on abortion and a hawk on defense, a scourge of wasteful government spending and a generally reliable vote in favor of tax cuts. Yet at last year's Conservative Political Action Conference, an annual gathering of party power brokers, McCain was booed.

Conservative élites are the ones most likely to break out into hives at the mention of McCain's name. Former Republican House majority leader Tom DeLay has declared that he would not vote for McCain in the general election, even if Hillary Clinton were the Democratic nominee. Railing against McCain and Huckabee, both of whom he views as anathema to conservatives, talk-radio kingpin Rush Limbaugh recently warned his 13.5 million listeners, "If either of these two guys gets the nomination, it's going to destroy the Republican Party." A few days later, Limbaugh was so outraged by the possibility that Republicans might support McCain that he bellowed, "If you Republicans don't mind McCain's positions, then what is it about Hillary's positions you dislike? They're the same!"

The truth is that McCain and Clinton remain far apart on the political spectrum. But it is also true that conservatives have a lengthy bill of complaint against McCain. In the past decade he has joined with Democrats on a series of crusades in Congress — with Russ Feingold on campaign-finance reform and Ted Kennedy on immigration reform — that a majority of Republicans have opposed. He voted against President Bush's tax cuts in 2001 and '03, each time citing the need for fiscal restraint. And during his 2000 campaign, he labeled Pat Robertson and the Rev. Jerry Falwell "agents of intolerance."

He has seemed to delight in doing battle with members of his own party and creed. "John's mistake is that he makes it personal," says a close friend in Washington. "When he's convinced he's doing the right thing, he has a hard time staying above the fray." All the while — and this may be what galls conservatives most — McCain has been hailed by liberals and lionized in the mainstream news media for being a rebel.

This maverick reputation, so prized for its general-election appeal, makes it difficult for McCain to pass the primary threshold. As was the case in 2000, McCain in 2008 has yet to win even a plurality of Republican votes in a presidential primary outside his home state of Arizona and the generally liberal Northeast.

This frustrates McCain, something I saw over dinner with him in Washington in May 2002, when McCain told me he was probably through with running for President. He had tried it two years before and almost pulled off a historic upset against Bush. But, he said, "you can't bottle lightning." Twice during dinner, patrons went over to shake McCain's hand and urge him to run again — against Bush in 2004 — as an independent or Democrat. The Senator was gracious and noncommittal. But after the second time, he gave me an exaggerated roll of his eyes and shook his head. "I'm a Republican, for chrissakes!"

The Right Stuff
But conservative and independent voters have the same question about McCain: What kind of Republican is he? In 2000, when the U.S. was at peace and the economy was luxuriating in the frothy end days of the first Internet boom, McCain's first campaign was about character and biography much more than issues. McCain was the authentic hero, the fighter pilot who had been shot down over Hanoi and spent more than five years as a prisoner of war. He was the reformer and the straight talker, the rare politician who — perhaps because of his experience as a POW — wasn't going to compromise his principles or hold his tongue to please his party. He was also, at his core, still the rowdy, runty, red-tempered plebe who finished near the bottom of his class at the Naval Academy despite an IQ of 133. McCain became a symbol in 2000 of courage and candor. Few took close looks at his policy positions. It was almost enough to get him the Republican nomination.

This time is different. Character and authenticity still matter, but McCain's reputation as an expert on defense and foreign affairs carries far greater weight in the post-9/11 world than it did eight years ago. On Iraq, McCain supported the invasion and still does. But he was an early critic of the way the Bush Administration was prosecuting the war and called for a change in strategy that would include a surge in U.S. troops to gain control of Baghdad. At the time, advocating an increase in U.S. troop levels in Iraq rather than a reduction was unpopular even within the G.O.P. But McCain stood by Bush when the policy was implemented.

For all his expertise, McCain tends to prefer blunt declarations about Iraq — "the surge is working." He says U.S. troops should remain in Iraq for 100 years if necessary. What he doesn't often discuss are the trade-offs required to sustain an unending commitment to a war that drains more than $9 billion from the U.S. Treasury every month. Instead, he is dismissive of those who doubt that he's right. "It's almost a ludicrous argument — 'How long are we going to stay?'" McCain insisted to me between campaign stops in Florida's Panhandle. "It's like asking 'How long are we going to stay in Japan?' Well, we've been there since World War II."

The success of the troop surge has given McCain points for prescience and reaffirmed his political courage. Yet there's a downside too. As violence in Iraq has ebbed, economic anxiety has rocketed to the top of voters' concerns. This shift exposes one of McCain's weaknesses. He is a conviction politician, passionate about the issues that animate him, dismissive of and uninterested in those that don't. Iraq, foreign policy, the military and treatment of veterans — these topics get him excited. In the domestic realm, he's fire and energy when he rails against pork-barrel spending. But mention other issues — taxes, health care, education policy — and he briefly resorts to talking points before changing the subject. "Obviously, the economy is a very, very vital issue," he told me. "There's no doubt about that, O.K.? But the issue that's going to be with us after the economy recovers is the challenge of radical Islamic extremism, of which Iraq is the central battleground."

Can't Help Himself
What's both refreshing and vaguely masochistic about McCain is that even when he knows it's in his short-term political interest to dodge a question or adjust his message, he often just won't — or can't — do it. If McCain becomes the nominee and wins the White House, he will be 72 when he takes office, the oldest person ever to ascend to the presidency. He has suffered serious skin cancers over the years, not to mention brutal physical torture as a prisoner of war. His age and health, therefore, are of legitimate concern to voters. But McCain doesn't downplay his liabilities; he highlights them. "I'm older than dirt, with more scars than Frankenstein," he likes to joke.

McCain has what author and friend Michael Lewis once described as "a love of actual risk" that is "freakish" in a politician. Before the Michigan primary, he told voters in the economically ravaged state that lost auto-industry jobs "aren't coming back," a dose of undiluted straight talk that probably cemented his loss there to Romney. And no sooner had he arrived in Florida than he declared himself opposed to a costly national catastrophic-insurance bill that is widely backed by Sunshine State voters and supported by Florida's popular Republican governor, Charlie Crist, whose endorsement McCain covets.

Still, McCain's appeal tends to transcend his positions on the issues — when it doesn't contradict them entirely. He is the candidate most associated with supporting the President's war in Iraq, yet he is the hands-down choice so far of antiwar and anti-Bush voters in his party's primaries. He has accrued a far more conservative record in political office than Rudy Giuliani, Romney or, in many cases, Mike Huckabee, but he is, as he was in 2000, the favorite of independents and Democrats who choose to vote in G.O.P. primaries.

That's the main reason that skeptical Republicans may fall in line behind McCain, even if they don't fall for him. This is shaping up to be a dismal election year for the G.O.P.; regaining control of the House or Senate is beyond reach, and the incumbent Republican President has approval ratings that top out in the 30s. Home foreclosures are rampant, joblessness is up, and the markets are plunging. The Iraq war, while quieter, remains deeply unpopular. In other words, conditions could scarcely be worse for a Republican trying to win the White House. And yet every poll suggests that McCain — because of his appeal beyond his party — could actually win.

"McCain has his flaws," says Ken Duberstein, a former chief of staff to Ronald Reagan, "but everyone is starting to recognize that he's the most electable Republican out there." As if to dare Republican pooh-bahs to keep dragging their feet, McCain is holding a top-dollar fund raiser at a Washington steak house favored by lobbyists, on Jan. 28, the day before the Florida primary. The message: Get on board now, before McCain's nomination is a fait accompli.

If McCain does get the nod of his party, he has promised, he will wage a civil campaign. And he says he's confident that whoever wins the Democratic nomination will play by the same above-the-belt rules. Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards are his colleagues, after all, and McCain has worked with each of them in the Senate. He once even bonded with Clinton over late-night vodka shots in Estonia on a congressional trip. "I am confident we'd have a respectful debate with any of the three," McCain says. "Why not? I've worked with them all. They're all patriots."

That's the kind of talk that strikes terror in the hearts of many Republicans and makes them worry that McCain might lack the fire to attack his Democratic rival or, if he won the White House, might abandon the bedrock values of the G.O.P. in his zeal to make deals with Democrats. If McCain loses Florida, and the nomination, it will be because Republicans can't overcome their doubts about him — and because McCain isn't willing to make it easy for them.

>>> McCain and economy:
September 03, 2008 - Gov. Mitt Romney addresses the 2008 Republican National Convention; Talks about McCain's strenth on the economy

July 7, 2008 - Economists' Statement on John McCain's Jobs for America Economic Plan

ARLINGTON, VA -- U.S. Senator John McCain's presidential campaign today released a statement signed by over 300 professional economists in support of John McCain's Jobs for America economic plan. The list includes Nobel Prize winners, business economists with experience in the private sector, policy economists with experience in government and academic economists from major universities and state and community colleges.

Those signing the statement include Nobel Prize winners in Economics (Gary Becker, James Buchanan, Robert Lucas, Robert Mundell and Vernon Smith), former Presidents of the American Economic Association (Gary Becker, Martin Feldstein, Anne Krueger and Robert Lucas), economists who have served in the U.S. Treasury as Secretary or Under Secretaries (George Shultz, Beryl Sprinkel and John Taylor), former Chairs and other Members of the President's Council of Economic Advisers (Michael Boskin, Martin Feldstein, Glenn Hubbard, Paul MacAvoy, Burton Malkiel, Paul McCracken, William Poole, Harvey Rosen, Beryl Sprinkel, John Taylor and Murray Weidenbaum), former OMB Directors and other officials (John Cogan, James Miller, George Shultz and Amy Smith), former CBO Directors (Dan Crippen, Douglas Holtz-Eakin and June O'Neill), former Chair of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (Wendy Gramm), former Chairs of the Federal Trade Commission (James Miller and T im Muris) and economists who have served as Under Secretary of Commerce (Kathleen Cooper and Tony Villamil).

Economists' Statement:

We enthusiastically support John McCain's economic plan. It is a comprehensive, pro-growth, reform agenda. The reform focuses on the real economic problems Americans face today and will face in the future. And it builds on the core economic principles that have made America great.

His plan would control government spending by vetoing every bill with earmarks, implementing a constitutionally valid line-item veto, pausing non-military discretionary government spending programs for one year to stop their explosive growth and place accountability on federal government agencies.

His plan would keep taxes from rising, because higher tax rates are exactly the wrong policy to restore economic growth, especially at this time.

His plan would reduce tax rates by cutting the tax that corporations pay to 25 percent in line with other countries, by completely phasing out the alternative minimum tax, by increasing the exemption for dependents, by permitting the first-year expensing of new equipment and technology, and by making permanent a reformed tax credit for R&D.

His plan would also create a new and much simpler tax system and give Americans a free choice of whether to pay taxes under that simple system or the current complex and burdensome income tax.

His plan would open new markets for American goods and services and thereby create additional jobs for Americans by supporting good free trade agreements, such as the one with Colombia, and working with leaders around the world to avoid isolationism and protectionism. His plan would also reform education, retraining, and other assistance programs so they better help those displaced by trade and other changes in the economy. His plan addresses problems in the financial markets and housing markets by calling for increased transparency and accountability, by targeted assistance to deserving homeowners to refinance their mortgages, and by opposing so-called reform plans which would raise the costs of home-ownership in the future.

The above actions, as well as plans to address entitlement programs -- especially Social Security, Medicare and other government health care programs -- and his regulatory reforms -- especially in the area of health care -- constitute a broad and powerful economic agenda. Because of John McCain's experience working with the American people in all walks of life, with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, and with leaders around the world, we are optimistic that these plans will become a reality and will create jobs and restore confidence and strong economic growth.

Economists Who Have Signed The Statement:

Burton Abrams, University of Delaware
James D. Adams, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Douglas K. Adie, Ohio University
Richard Agnello, University of Delaware
William Albrecht, University of Iowa
Constantine Alexandrakis, University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth
William Alpert, University of Connecticut
Wayne Angell, Former Fed Governor
Fernando E. Alvarez, University of Chicago
Geoffrey T. Andron, Austin Community College
George R. Averitt, Purdue University North Central
Charles Baird, California State University, East Bay
Howard Beales, George W ashington University
Stacie E. Beck, University of Delaware
Gary Becker, University of Chicago
Donald Bellante, University of South Florida
Daniel K. Benjamin, Clemson University
John J. Bethune, Barton CollegeSanjai Bhagat, University of Colorado
Andrew G. Biggs, American Enterprise Institute
Robert G. Bise, Orange Coast College
Michael K. Block, University of Arizona
Donald Booth, Chapman University
Karl J. Borden, University of Nebraska
Michael Bordo, Rutgers University
George H. Borts, Brown University
Mich ael Boskin, Stanford University
Daniel P. Brandt III, Washington, D.C.
Ike Brannon, Department of the Treasury
David P. Brown, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Jeff Brown, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Joseph Brusuelas, Merk Investments
Phillip J. Bryson, Brigham Young University
Andrzej Brzeski, University of California, Davis
James Buchanan, George Mason University
Todd Buchholz, Two Oceans Management
Richard Burdekin, Claremont McKenna College
Richard V. Burkhauser, Cornell University
James B. Burnham, Duquesne University
Andr ew B. Busch, BMO Capital Markets
James L. Butkiewicz, University of Delaware
Mark Calabria, United States Senate
James Carter, Vienna, VA
Don Chance, Louisiana State University
Barry R. Chiswick, University of Illinois at Chicago
Bhagwan Chowdhry, UCLA
Richard Clarida, Columbia University
Candice Clark, Economic consultant
Kenneth W. Clarkson, University of Miami
Warren Coats, IMF, retired
John Cogan, Hoover Institution
Boyd D. Collier, Tarleton State University
Michael Connolly, University of Miami
Kathleen B. Cooper, Southern Methodist University
Joshua Coval, Harvard University
Ted Covey, McLean, Virginia
Nicole Crain, Lafayette College
W. Mark Crain, Lafayette College
Dan Crippen, Former CBO Director
Thomas D. Crocker, University of Wyoming
Robert L. Crouch, University of California, Santa Barbara
Mario J. Crucini, Vanderbilt University
Ward S. Curran, Trinity College
Coldwell Daniel III, The University of Memphis
Antony Davies, Duquesne University
Steven Davis, University of Chicago
Clarence R. Deitsch, Ball State University
Richard DeKaser, National City Corporation
Stephen J. Dempsey, University of Vermont
Christopher DeMuth, American Enterprise Institute
David B.H. Denoon, New York University
William G. Dewald, Ohio State University
Arthur M. Diamond Jr., University of Nebraska at Omaha
John Diamond, Rice University
David L. Dickinson, Appalachian State University
Francis X. Diebold, University of Pennsylvania
Jeffrey H. Dorfman, University of Georgia
Thomas J. Duesterberg, Manufacturers Alliance/MAPI
Parnell Duverger, Broward Community College
Isaac Ehrlich, SUNY at Buffalo
Martin Eichenbaum, Northwestern University
Jeffrey A. Eisenach, Criterion Economics
Michael A. Ellis, Kent State University
Joachim G. Elterich, University of Delaware
Kenneth Elzinga, University of Virginia
Stephen J. Entin, Institute for Research on the Economics of Taxation
T.W. Epps, University of Virginia
Michael G. Erickson, The College of Idaho
Paul Evans, Ohio State University
Dino Falaschetti, Hoover Institution
Frank Falero Jr., California State University
Susan K. Feigenbaum, University of Missouri, St. Louis
Martin Feldstei n, Harvard University
Eric Fisher, California Polytechnic State University
Arthur A "Trey" Fleisher III, Metro State College of Denver
James Forcier, University of San Francisco
William F. Ford, Middle Tenn. State U.
Michele Fratianni, Indiana University
Luke Froeb, Vanderbilt University
Kenneth C. Froewiss, NYU Stern School of Business
Diana Furchtgott-Roth, Hudson Institute
Timothy S. Fuerst, Bowling Green State University
Lowell Gallaway, Ohio University
B Delworth Gardner, Brigham Young University
Dave Garthoff, The University of Akron
Ilhan K. Geckil, Anderson Economic Group
Rick Geddes, Cornell University
Joseph A. Giacalone, St. John's University
Adam Gifford, California State University, Northridge
David Gillette, Truman State University
Micha Gisser, University of New Mexico
Amy Jocelyn Glass, Texas A&M University
Charles J. Goetz, The University of Virginia
Claudio Gonzalez-Vega, The Ohio State University
Lawrence Goodman, Bergen City, NJ
Barry K. Goodwin, North Carolina State University
Eric S. Graber, Independent Economist
Douglas H. Graham, The Ohio State University
J. Edward Graham, University of North Carolina Wilmington
Phil Gramm, Former U.S. Senator
Teresa Beckham Gramm, Rhodes College
Wendy Lee Gramm
William B. Green, Sam Houston State University
Kenneth Greene, Binghamton University
Paul Gregory, University of Houston
Earl Grinols, Baylor University
Gary Hansen, UCLA
Eric Hanushek, Hoover Institution
Stephen Happel, Arizona State University
James E. Hartley, Mount Holyoke College
Kevin Hassett, American Enterprise Institute
Joel W. Hay, University of Southern California
Jared E. Hazleton, Texecon: A Texas Economic Consulting Firm
Charles E. Hegji, Auburn University Montgomery
Robert H. Heidt, Indiana University School of Law
Harold M. Hochman, CUNY Graduate Center and Lafayette College
Robert J. Hodrick, Columbia Business School
Stuart G. Hoffman, The PNC Financial Services Group
Arlene Holen, Washington, D.C.
Mac R. Holmes, Troy University
Douglas Holtz-Eakin, John McCain 2008
C. Thomas Howard, University of Denver
E. Philip Howrey, University of Michigan
Glenn Hubbard, Columbia University
James L. Huffman, Lewis & Clark Law School
J. Christopher Hughen, University of Denver
E. Kingdon Hurlock, Calvert Investment Counsel
Stephen L. Jackstadt, University of Alaska, Anchorage
Joseph M. Jadlow, Oklahoma State University
Sherry L Jarrell, Wake Forest University
Michael C. Jensen, Harvard Business School
Dennis A. Johnson, University of South Dakota
Shane A. Johnson, Texas A&M University
Richard Just, University of Maryland
Tim Kane, Washington, D.C.
Steven Kaplan, University of Chicago Graduate School of Business
Alexander Katkov, Johnson and Wales University
Melissa Kearney, University of Maryland
Joe Kennedy, Arlington, Virginia
Lawrence W. Kenny, University of Florida
Calvin A. Kent, Marshall University
E. Han Kim, University of Michigan
Robert G. King, Boston University
Paul R. Koch, Olivet Nazarene University
Meir Kohn, Dartmouth College
James W. Kolari, Texas A&M University
Roger C. Kormendi, Kormendi/Gardner Partners
Marvin Kosters, American Enterprise Institute
Robert Krol, California State University, Northridge
Anne Krueger, Johns Hopkins University
Deepak Lal, University of Cal ifornia, Los Angeles
Douglas Lamdin, The University of Maryland, Baltimore County
Daniel L Landau, University of Connecticut
Richard La Near, Missouri Southern State University
Nicholas A. Lash, Loyola University
Don R. Leet, California State University, Fresno
Norman B. Lefton, Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville
Tom Lehman, Indiana Wesleyan University
Thomas M. Lenard, Technology Policy Institute
Noreen E. Lephardt, Marquette University
Adam Lerrick, Carnegie Mellon University and the American Enterprise Institute
Philip I. Levy, American Enterprise Institute
W. Cris Lewis, Utah State University
Andrew Light, Liberty University
Jane Lillydahl, University of Colorado at Boulder
Zheng Liu, Emory University
Luis Locay, University of Miami
John R. Lott Jr., University of Maryland
Lawrence W. Lovik, Alabama Policy Institute
Robert Lucas, University of Chicago
John Lunn, Hope College
R. Ashley Lyman, University of Idaho
Paul W. MacAvoy, Yale School of Management
Glenn MacDonald, Washington University in St. Louis
John Makin, American Enterprise Institute
Burton Malkiel, Princeton University
David Malpass, Encima Global LLC
Michael Marlow, California Polytechnic State University
Donald J. Marshall, Consulting Engineer and Economist
Aparna Mathur, American Enterprise Institute
Timothy Matthews, Kennesaw State University
John Matsusaka, University of Southern California
Bennett McCallum, Carnegie Mellon University
Paul W. McCracken, University of Michigan
Martin C. McGuire, University of California-Irvine
W. Douglas McMillin, Louisiana State University
Roger Meiners, University of Texas - Arlington
Will Melick, Kenyon College
Allan Meltzer, Ca rnegie Mellon University
John Merrifield, University of Texas at San Antonio
Paul Merski, Independent Community Bankers of America
Jim Mietus, Great Falls, VA
Todd Milbourn, Washington University in St. Louis
Geoffrey P. Miller, New York University Law School
James Miller, George Mason University and The Hoover Institution
William C. Miller, Pioneer Analytics LLC
David E. Mills, University of Virginia
Velma Montoya, National Council of Hispanic Women
Michael Moore, George Washington University
Charles Britt Moss, University of Florida
Robert Mundell, Columbia University
Tim Muris, George Mason University
David B. Mustard, University of Georgia
Richard F. Muth, Emory University
Anthony N. Negbenebor, Gardner-Webb University
Charles Nelson, University of Washington
Robert J. Newman, Louisiana State University
Michael P. Niemira, International Council of Shopping Centers
Tom O'Brien, University of Connecticut
Lee E. Ohanian, UCLA
June O'Neill, Baruch College, CUNY
Steve Parente, University of Minnesota
Randall Parker, East Carolina University
Douglas Patterson, Virginia Tech
Tim Perri, Appalachian State University
Mark J. Perry, University of Michigan-Flint
Tomas Philipson, University of Chicago
William Poole, University of Delaware
Michael E. Porter, Harvard Business School
Barry Poulson, University of Colorado Boulder
James Prieger, Pepperdine University
R. David Ranson, H. C. Wainwrigth & Co. Economics Inc.
Richard Rawlins, Missouri Southern State University
Martin A. Regalia, Gaithersburg, Maryland
Barrie Richardson, Centenary College
Christine P. Ries, Georgia Institute of Technology
Aldona Robbins, Fiscal Associates
Gary Robbins, Fiscal Associates
Kenneth Rogoff, Harvard University
Richard Roll, UCLA
Harvey Rosen, Princeton University
Larry L. Ross, University of Alaska, Anchorage
Robert Rossana, Wayne State University
Timothy P. Roth, The University of Texas at El Paso
Charles Rowley, George Mason University
Paul H. Rubin, Emory University
Roy Ruffin, University of Houston
Gary J. Santoni, Ball State University
T.R. Saving, Texas A&M University
Mike Schuyler, Institute for Research on the Economics of Taxation
Anna Schwartz, National B ureau of Economic Research
Loren C. Scott, Louisiana State University
Robert Haney Scott, California State University, Chico
Carlos Seiglie, Rutgers University
Richard Selden, University of Virginia
John Semmens, Laissez Faire Institute
Sol S. Shalit, University of Wisconsin
Alan Shapiro, University of Southern California
Judy Shelton
William F. Shughart II, The University of Mississippi
George Shultz, Hoover Institution
Jerome Siebert, University of California, Berkeley
John Silvia, Wachovia
Chuck Skipton, University of Tampa
Scott B. Smart, Indiana University
Amy Smith, Former OMB Chief Economist
James F. Smith, The University of North Carolina
Vernon Smith, Chapman University
Sean M. Snaith, University of Central Florida
Douglas Southgate, Ohio State University
Frank Spreng, McKendree University
Beryl W. Sprinkel, Retired
Stan Spurlock, Mississippi State University
George J. Staller, Cornell University
Craig A. Stephenson, Babson College
Houston Stokes, University of Illinois at Chicago
Courtenay C. Stone, Ball State University
Scott Sumner , Bentley College
James Sweeney, Stanford University
Richard Sweeney, Georgetown University
Robert Tamura, Clemson University
Clifford Tan, Stanford Center for International Development
John A. Tatom, Indiana State University
John Taylor, Stanford University
Paul Taylor, Vienna, VA
Teresa Tharp, Valencia Community College
Clifford F. Thies, Shenandoah University
Henry Thompson, Auburn University
Walter N. Thurman, North Carolina State University
Jerry G. Thursby, Georgia Institute of Technology
Robert D Tollison, Clemson University
William N. Trumbull, West Virginia University
Kamal Upadhyaya, University of New Haven
Charles W. Upton, Kent State University
Peter J Van Blokland, University of Florida
T. Norman Van Cott, Ball State University
Richard Vedder, American Enterprise Institute
George J. Viksnins, Georgetown University
J. Antonio Villamil, The Washington Economics Group
Richard E. Wagner, George Mason University
William B. Walstad, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Murray Weidenbaum, Washington University in St. Louis
Marc D. Weidenmier, Claremont McKenna College
Finis We lch, Texas A&M University
James B. Whitaker, Centreville, VA
John Wicks, University of Montana
Wayne H. Winegarden, Arduin, Laffer & Moore Econometrics
Gary Wolfram, Hillsdale College
DeVo L. Yoho, Ball State University
Nancy A. Yonge, Smith Center for Private Enterprise
Paul J. Zak, Claremont Graduate University
Mokhlis Y. Zaki, Northern Michigan University
Mark Zandi, Malvern, PA
Arnold Zellner, University of Chicago
Kate Zhou, University of Hawaii
Joseph Zoric, Franciscan University of Steubenville
Benjamin Zycher, Manhattan Institute for Policy Research

* Affiliations are listed for identification purposes only.<<<

Arizona Sen. John McCain, whose White House aspirations went into a nose dive last summer, clinched the Republican Party's presidential nomination in March of 2008, while Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton fought a prolonged battle for the Democratic nomination.

Obama eventually won the Democratic nomination.

Op-ed piece written by Sen. John McCain

In January 2007, when General David Petraeus took command in Iraq, he called the situation "hard" but not "hopeless." Today, 18 months later, violence has fallen by up to 80% to the lowest levels in four years, and Sunni and Shiite terrorists are reeling from a string of defeats. The situation now is full of hope, but considerable hard work remains to consolidate our fragile gains.

Progress has been due primarily to an increase in the number of troops and a change in their strategy. I was an early advocate of the surge at a time when it had few supporters in Washington. Senator Barack Obama was an equally vocal opponent. "I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence there," he said on January 10, 2007. "In fact, I think it will do the reverse."

Now Senator Obama has been forced to acknowledge that "our troops have performed brilliantly in lowering the level of violence." But he still denies that any political progress has resulted.

Perhaps he is unaware that the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad has recently certified that, as one news article put it, "Iraq has met all but three of 18 original benchmarks set by Congress last year to measure security, political and economic progress." Even more heartening has been progress that's not measured by the benchmarks. More than 90,000 Iraqis, many of them Sunnis who once fought against the government, have signed up as Sons of Iraq to fight against the terrorists. Nor do they measure Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki's new-found willingness to crack down on Shiite extremists in Basra and Sadr City?actions that have done much to dispel suspicions of sectarianism.

The success of the surge has not changed Senator Obama's determination to pull out all of our combat troops. All that has changed is his rationale. In a New York Times op-ed and a speech this week, he offered his "plan for Iraq" in advance of his first "fact finding" trip to that country in more than three years. It consisted of the same old proposal to pull all of our troops out within 16 months. In 2007 he wanted to withdraw because he thought the war was lost. If we had taken his advice, it would have been. Now he wants to withdraw because he thinks Iraqis no longer need our assistance.

To make this point, he mangles the evidence. He makes it sound as if Prime Minister Maliki has endorsed the Obama timetable, when all he has said is that he would like a plan for the eventual withdrawal of U.S. troops at some unspecified point in the future.

Senator Obama is also misleading on the Iraqi military's readiness. The Iraqi Army will be equipped and trained by the middle of next year, but this does not, as Senator Obama suggests, mean that they will then be ready to secure their country without a good deal of help. The Iraqi Air Force, for one, still lags behind, and no modern army can operate without air cover. The Iraqis are also still learning how to conduct planning, logistics, command and control, communications, and other complicated functions needed to support frontline troops.

No one favors a permanent U.S. presence, as Senator Obama charges. A partial withdrawal has already occurred with the departure of five "surge" brigades, and more withdrawals can take place as the security situation improves. As we draw down in Iraq, we can beef up our presence on other battlefields, such as Afghanistan, without fear of leaving a failed state behind. I have said that I expect to welcome home most of our troops from Iraq by the end of my first term in office, in 2013.

But I have also said that any draw-downs must be based on a realistic assessment of conditions on the ground, not on an artificial timetable crafted for domestic political reasons. This is the crux of my disagreement with Senator Obama.

Senator Obama has said that he would consult our commanders on the ground and Iraqi leaders, but he did no such thing before releasing his "plan for Iraq." Perhaps that's because he doesn't want to hear what they have to say. During the course of eight visits to Iraq, I have heard many times from our troops what Major General Jeffrey Hammond, commander of coalition forces in Baghdad, recently said: that leaving based on a timetable would be "very dangerous."

The danger is that extremists supported by Al Qaeda and Iran could stage a comeback, as they have in the past when we've had too few troops in Iraq. Senator Obama seems to have learned nothing from recent history. I find it ironic that he is emulating the worst mistake of the Bush administration by waving the "Mission Accomplished" banner prematurely.

I am also dismayed that he never talks about winning the war?only of ending it. But if we don't win the war, our enemies will. A triumph for the terrorists would be a disaster for us. That is something I will not allow to happen as president. Instead I will continue implementing a proven counterinsurgency strategy not only in Iraq but also in Afghanistan with the goal of creating stable, secure, self-sustaining democratic allies.


Saddleback Civic Forum


On August 29, 2008, Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain announced he had chosen Sarah Palin as his running mate. She was nominated at the 2008 Republican National Convention in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Palin is the first woman to run on the Republican Party's presidential ticket, and the first Alaskan of either major party.


John McCain 2008

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