(CNN) -- Whatever happens Tuesday in Kentucky and Oregon, John McCain knows he won't just be running against the Democrats this fall. He will also be running against George W. Bush.
Sen. John McCain says his administration would be open and accountable and admit mistakes.
In some ways, that may be the tougher campaign.
McCain is in a tough spot. He needs to distance himself from Bush, but he needs the party faithful to know he's a reliable Republican. He has to have support from the party's conservative base, but his general election prospects could well rest with independents. He's running on experience, but he wants to represent change.
On some issues, he's staked out territory that comfortably embraces George W. Bush. Watch McCain distinguish himself from Bush »
On Iraq, for example, McCain would soldier on, continuing the Bush deployments and the counterinsurgency strategy.
On taxes, he'd keep the cuts, saying low taxes are the best way to manage and stimulate the economy.
But on climate change, he'd adopt a more aggressive approach that would place limits on greenhouse gas emissions and actively engage Europe, China and India.
"I will not permit eight long years to pass without serious action on serious challenges," McCain declared in a clear shot at Bush.
But it's in tone and process that McCain suggests he would offer a clear break from the recent Republican past.
Think of it as McCain's accountability strategy.
Here's what he said last week: "When we make errors, I will confess them readily, and explain what we intend to do to correct them."
Ending secrecy and arrogance, he suggests, will come through openness, access and a remarkable departure from anything ever done by an American president.
"I will ask Congress to grant me the privilege of coming before both houses to take questions," McCain said, "and address criticism, much the same as the prime minister of Great Britain appears regularly before the House of Commons."
Ever seen the way the British do that? It's noisy, irreverent, unfiltered debate. But that's Parliament. And the prime minister is a member of Parliament.
In the United States we have "separation of powers" and Article II, Section III of the Constitution that says the president "shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union."
So we get the State of the Union address, a tightly scripted, choreographed hour or so of no-questions-asked tradition.
McCain's idea could change a lot more than just the atmospherics.
For starters, submitting to spontaneous questions from Congress would be a huge departure from Bush/Cheney, who have worked to get more power for the executive branch and limited congressional access to top officials and information.
It might alter the bully pulpit that's long been the sole domain of the president. Why? Because with Congress asking the questions, Congress sets the agenda.
The practice might also beat the press because suddenly reporters won't be the only ones asking the questions.
McCain has concluded that accountability sells, and that in this election cycle, humility and transparency matter to the voters. It's a stunning example of how he wants to change the rules in Washington and how he intends to run against George W. Bush.
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