Who Is Sen. John McCain?
By Candy Crowley/CNN
PHOENIX, Ariz. (May 18) -- The Senate is expected to take up the contentious tobacco agreement belonging to Sen. John McCain this week. The Arizona Republican has been under fire before, both on the battlefield and on Capitol Hill.
McCain lives two hours outside of Phoenix, in a valley beneath the cottonwoods. There are children there, grown and growing, grandchildren and a constant stream of friends or whoever happens to be around.
Cooking at the grill, McCain says it is very rare that they don't have company. "We like to have people around," he said.
Even amidst the beautiful landscape, it is tempting to look for traces of Vietnam in his life.
A person could see much of what McCain is and does through the prism of 5 1/2 years as a prisoner of war, but it would not be how or where he sees himself.
"It was long ago and far away," McCain said, referring to his time in a Vietnam prison camp.
"Obviously it made me appreciate freedom, democracy, etcetera. And yet at the same time, it wasn't the defining experience of my life. I had many defining experiences in my life," McCain said.
McCain remembers his time in the Naval Academy. "I hated every minute of it, but was so grateful that I was there. Having wonderful parents and grandfather whose approval is my lasting ambition in life."
The son and grandson of Navy admirals, McCain spent 22 years as a naval aviator. His war hero status after Vietnam brought him into close contact with politics, and in 1982 McCain won his first race for the U.S. House.
Now he is running for his third Senate term, and McCain is Arizona's most popular politician. He has a reputation as a media favorite and increasingly as a force to reckon with in the corridors of power.
But McCain has not been the most popular among his peers. A maverick, he has championed a campaign finance reform bill opposed by most Republicans. He is the self-appointed pork police, alert for pet projects that slip into spending bills late at night.
McCain is tenacious and he can be impatient.
"You have to seize the moment," he said. "In other words, don't wait 20 years until you're the most senior guy in order to be involved in an issue."
A respected foreign policy voice, McCain is also chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee. The chairmanship puts him in the mix of a variety of issues and is how he came by his current assignment: tobacco policy.
It is a reservoir of experience that prompts talk of a presidential bid.
"It's flattering, but we also know that I am less than conventional in many respects," he said.
After a while, it's easy to think that the experience McCain values most is the one he's about to have.