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McCain: Race won't determine outcome of election

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  • President will be decided on "who is best to lead this country," McCain says
  • McCain expresses "total" confidence in running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin
  • Obama broke a pledge on public campaign financing, McCain says

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TAMPA, Florida (CNN) -- Presidential candidate John McCain denied Wednesday that race will determine the outcome of next week's election against Barack Obama, who hopes to become the country's first black president.

Sen. John McCain sits down with CNN's Larry King in Tampa, Florida, Wednesday.

Sen. John McCain sits down with CNN's Larry King in Tampa, Florida, Wednesday.

"Look, there's racism in America -- we all know that," the Republican hopeful told CNN's Larry King Wednesday.

"But I am totally convinced that 99 and forty-four-one-hundredths percent of Americans are going to make the decision based on who is best to lead this country," he continued.

"These are one of the most difficult times in our history ... I have faith in the American people that they will make the judgment for the best of reasons."

The full interview aired on "Larry King Live" Wednesday night. Video Watch McCain talk about the role of racism in the election »

McCain trails Obama, the Democratic candidate, by about 7 points in CNN's national poll of polls, and is also behind in a number of polls in must-win states.

On Wednesday, McCain's running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin tried to link Obama to a Columbia University professor. "His associate, Rashid Khalidi ... in addition to being a political ally of Barack Obama, he's a former spokesperson for the Palestinian Liberation Organization," she said. Video Watch Palin say the LA Times is 'kowtowing' to Obama »

The Obama campaign said on its Web site that "ugly insinuations about Barack Obama's relationship with a former neighbor and university colleague ... are completely false."

Khalidi has denied in the past he was a PLO spokesman. Khalidi and Obama overlapped in their tenure teaching at the University of Chicago. Khalidi is now at Columbia.

McCain expressed "total" confidence in Palin during his interview with King.

"She has the instincts. She shares my world view," McCain said, calling her "an incredibly quick study." Video Watch McCain express confidence in Gov. Palin »

McCain said he would have Palin focus on government reform, energy and children with special needs as vice-president.

"She reformed the government in Alaska," he said. "She negotiated a $40 billion pipeline of natural gas to the Lower 48."

"Every town hall meeting I come to, there is a child that is brought that has autism or Down [syndrome], and the way they relate to Sarah is wonderful," McCain said. Palin's youngest child, Trig, who was born earlier this year, has Down syndrome.

McCain repeatedly accused Obama of "not telling the American people the truth," particularly on the question of public financing for his campaign. Video Watch McCain accuse Obama of lying about campaign financing »

"Twice he looked into the camera when he was in debate with Sen. [Hillary] Clinton and said, 'I'll sit down and negotiate with John McCain before I decide on public financing,' " McCain charged.

"I'm still waiting for the call."

Obama announced after clinching the Democratic nomination for president that he would not take public funding for his campaign, freeing him to raise unprecedented amounts of money directly from contributors.

McCain accused him not only of breaking a pledge, but also of failing to account properly for his donations.

"We don't know where they came from, we don't know who contributed," he said.

He said the Obama campaign had been "intelligent" to try to tie him to the unpopular President Bush, but denied the tactic would be successful.

"I think that the American people realize that I'm very different in many ways, whether it be spending, or the conduct of the war in Iraq, or climate change, or treatment of prisoners, or a number of other issues," he said.

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McCain admitted he was trailing in the polls, but denied being worried. Video Watch the poll results from coast to coast »

"I think obviously I know we're still the underdog," he said. "We've got six days to go to make that up. But it's not a matter of worry ... I love the underdog status. I just want to leave that status at the time the polls close."

All About U.S. Presidential ElectionJohn McCainBarack Obama

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