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Hollywood ending for McCain?

  • Story Highlights
  • War veteran John McCain admired by many who do not share his politics
  • Likely to be the Republican candidate for the White House come November
  • Many Republicans disagree with his criticism of war in Iraq, opposition to tax cuts
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By CNN's Jonathan Mann
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One thing about John McCain: he'd make a hell of a movie. Picture this: a pugnacious young man becomes a U.S. Navy pilot, then a prisoner of war. He ends up as a feisty politician with an independent mind and often foul mouth, who takes more than his share of punches and perseveres.

Senator John McCain

War veteran and Republican John McCain is admired by many who do not share his politics

Even now, at age 71, his war wounds make it hard for him to raise his hands high enough to comb his own hair.

It's why a lot of Americans who don't agree with his politics admire him anyway. And why the Democrats may have a tough time defeating him.

Democrat Barack Obama's 11 consecutive primary and caucus victories got all the attention last week because he needed them so badly. He's in a tight contest with Hillary Clinton and he could lose it.

McCain won last week too, in Wisconsin and Washington state, but that's getting less attention because for the first time in a long time, McCain isn't fighting the odds, he's the clear favorite.

But let's back up.

McCain spent nearly six years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam and he was tortured there.

Vietnam colors his politics today: his determination that the US will not withdraw from Iraq in defeat; his vow that if he's elected president, the US will forswear torture of any kind.

McCain prides himself on his independence from his party and even public opinion.

When President Bush took the enormously popular step of cutting taxes in 2001 and 2003, McCain opposed him both times because he said it would primarily make rich Americans even richer. Republicans don't often vote against tax cuts or forgive those who do.

He was an outspoken critic of the prosecution of the war in Iraq, not because he opposed the war but because he felt it was being fought with too few troops to win. President Bush's recent and apparently successful troop 'surge' in Baghdad suggests McCain was right. But again, Republicans haven't forgotten that McCain broke ranks.

Americans outside the party haven't forgotten either.

The media love McCain and largely overlook his foibles - his explosive anger and startling behind-the-scenes profanity. Stories of his fiery outbursts at fellow senators, using words you can't publish in most newspapers, have made their way into the media and McCain doesn't dispute their accuracy.

Last week, the press did shine a spotlight on something potentially much more damaging - reports that back in 1999 he developed a companionship with an attractive blonde lobbyist more than 30 years his junior. The New York Times reported that his aides intervened and ended her access to him, to prevent rumors. But both of them denied anything improper had happened.

Will it hurt him?

Polls show that even though this is a terrible year for any Republican, if an election were held today, he would be essentially tied with Hillary Clinton and fall just a few percentage points behind Barack Obama.

In other words, the Republicans have found a candidate who could actually win this one.

It would make a heck of a Hollywood ending. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

All About John McCainBarack ObamaHillary Clinton

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