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Interview with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)

Aired November 5, 2002 - 21:50   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: And now I have the rare opportunity to do something I hardly ever get to do, and that is to say good evening to Larry, because usually by this time of the night I'm asleep, frankly.
Good -- good morning. Hello. Good evening.

LARRY KING, HOST: Almost did it.

ZAHN: I know. It's so hard. Old habits die hard, let me tell you.

KING: Nice being introduced by the lovely and talented Paula Zahn. He's not lovely, but he is talented, he is Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, the decorated Vietnam War veteran, author of the recently released memoir "Worth the Fighting For."

Senator McCain, we know that Max Cleland is behind. It is very early tonight. Is it hard for you, when friends of yours in the Senate, on the opposite side of the aisle might lose?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Yes, it is hard, and it's especially hard with Max because he's a fellow Vietnam veteran, but obviously I'd love to see Republicans gain control of the Senate, and you know, I always like to see Republicans win.

But, Larry, in straight talk, I have great affection and love for Max Cleland, and he's an American hero, but you know politics is a collision sport, and obviously I'm hoping for Republican victories and I must say that...

KING: They haven't -- they haven't called it yet. It is very early. I'm just wondering, when opponents on either side, do you miss it even though you want -- you'd like there to be 100-0 for the Republicans, do you miss it when a Democrat you've served with loses?

MCCAIN: Depends on the Democrat. In the case -- in the case of Max Cleland, obviously, we have very close personal bond. But, of course, I think it's best for the country with a Republican majority, and I'm hoping for continued Republican victories. I'm sorry if it has to be Max that is the one that loses.

KING: No, so far, there's been so switch in power in the Senate. All things are status quo, but some races are very close. How do you see it from your vantage point?

MCCAIN: I see a Republican breeze blowing, Larry. Some of the House races that we thought were tough have gone Republican. The Sununu race, most people thought would be extremely close, and apparently he's doing very well there. You mentioned the Cleland race. Dynamics of the Minnesota race are too complicated for me to figure out, but I think it's going to be very close. If I had to predict right now, I think Republicans regain the majority, perhaps with a vote on the part of Vice President Cheney and perhaps not.

KING: Tell me about the Arizona race, the former Congressman Matt Salmon against Democratic attorney general Janet Napolitano for governor.

MCCAIN: Well, Matt Salmon was a very good congressman, a state legislator, and he won our primary, and he's a very talented guy. A lot of it depends on voter turnout, as every -- just about every race does. But we expect to be up late tonight in Arizona, because the polls show that was a horse race before Election Day today.

KING: What is -- Bob Woodward was here earlier, and he said the balance of power, this 51-49, doesn't mean anything in the Senate. It's -- if you don't have 60 votes, the Senate is an individualistic place of 100 people.

MCCAIN: Well, in all due respect, I saw that your interview with Bob and I respect him as much as anybody in Washington. I had two differences of opinion. One is, of course it matters because you set the agenda, the legislative agenda is set by the majority leader, and the committee chairman in my case, the Commerce Committee, we would have had a very different agenda in the Commerce Committee, if I had been chairman in all due respect to my friend, Senator Hollings.

Second of all, when he talked to you about money and politics, 20 years from now, there will be another Feingold and another McCain. But in the '80s when I first ran, there was no such thing as soft money. There was no such thing as the obscene amounts of money we are seeing in this campaign, nor was there such a thing as these terrible, terrible negative ads that continue to inundate people. I have been traveling all around the country campaigning for Republicans, and I can tell you voters are angry about all this, all this negative stuff. Call so and so, and tell him to call so and so, to call so and so. It's just trash and garbage, and political consultants make a whole lot of money, but it's not what Americans want in politics.

And finally, it makes it difficult to motivate young men and women to run if they think they're going to be exposed to those kinds of lies and distortions. These are good men and women on both sides of the aisle, both parties that are running. They deserve better.

KING: Senator, how big a change takes place tomorrow when your bill kicks in?

MCCAIN: Well, we've got to fight the Federal Elections Commission, which has, in a most corrupt fashion, has emasculated both the letter and the intent of the law, and we're going to take them to court. We will fight them again in the Congress if necessary. We will fight wherever is necessary, but I think you'll see some significant improvements and changes. KING: I know one of the opposite side of this ledger pits some right wing conservatives and very liberal liberals against you on this, on the First Amendment aspect. What's your answer on that?

MCCAIN: Yes -- my answer is that both extremes are wrong. No one in America believes that the campaign we just saw is the kind of politics we need to see in America, and when it's huge amounts of undisclosed sewer money that nobody will say even who contributed that money, or was behind it, that's not what American politics are supposed to be about. My opponents will argue, they say money is free speech. Money is not free speech according to the United States Supreme Court. Money is property.

KING: Couple other areas I want to cover with you. Glad to see Frank Lautenberg -- personally, did you get along with him? He is coming back to the Senate.

MCCAIN: I always got along with Frank. He's an interesting guy, and certainly we'll know that he's there, as soon as he arrives.

KING: Should age be any kind of a factor -- if Mondale comes and Lautenberg coming, 78 years old, 74 years old. Should that matter at all?

MCCAIN: Makes me feel much younger. I think that the voters make that judgment. As you know, Strom Thurmond and others have been extremely effective. Robert Byrd is in his '80s. So, I think it depends on the individual, but the voters make the judgment and you have got to respect it.

KING: Women are getting more of a strength play in the Senate. You've got another woman joining you now. Oddly enough now, the two women of the two men who ran against each other, are now both in the Senate, Mrs. Dole and Mrs. Clinton. What's your read on that?

MCCAIN: Well, I think it's good. I think it is good for America. I think -- I think it's a great thing. If I had another wish, it would be to have more ethnic diversification in the United States Senate, because the United States Senate is perhaps not totally representative, but it should be more representative of all ethnic groups in America, and that doesn't mean that we aren't sensitive, or in any other way able to handle those issues, but it does provide role models for other young people to emulate, and that's what I think the presence of diversification represents for the Senate and America.

KING: In races that have not come in yet, and where we haven't picked any winners yet, do you have a forecast, anything that might surprise us tonight?


KING: McCain crystal ball?

MCCAIN: No -- of course, they say Texas is -- they may have a very, very large Hispanic voter turnout, which, by the way, is good, and I think that could be interesting. But I think the other races are, with the exception of Colorado, are pretty well -- pretty well decided, although we haven't -- some of them that are being reported in. I guess my guesstimate is that Republicans gain control either through 50/50 or one additional seat, and you have got to give credit to President Bush for intensive and hard campaigning in these races, and the ones that are very close, I think you could say that he pretty well made a difference because of his enormous popularity. He did a great job.

KING: By the way -- did you go into South Dakota?

MCCAIN: No, I did not. I was in California, South Carolina, Maine, Iowa. I was in a lot of states, but I was not there.

KING: Going to go back to "Saturday Night Live"?

MCCAIN: Any time.

KING: "TV Guide" says they gave you a cheer this week for your appearance, saying you were funny as any senator has ever been on purpose.

MCCAIN: Could I mention that I'm the only senator that's ever been on "Saturday Night Live"?

KING: Always good seeing you, John. Thank you.

MCCAIN: Thanks, Larry.

KING: Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona. Known him a long time, and so forgive me for the first name mention. When we come back in the next hour, we're going to have a go at it with the chairman of the Republican and Democratic Parties, Terry McAuliffe and Marc Rasicot.


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