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 TIME on politics Congressional Quarterly CNN/AllPolitics CNN/AllPolitics - Storypage, with TIME and Congressional Quarterly

Who is Sen. John McCain?

December 22, 1998
Web posted at: 5:25 p.m. EST (2225 GMT)

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, December 22) -- Many names have been tossed about as possible candidates in the 2000 presidential election, but one that comes up again and again is the Republican senator from Arizona, John McCain.

Sen. John McCain  

McCain lives two hours outside of Phoenix in a valley beneath the cottonwoods. When he was new in the state, first running for Congress, an opponent accused him of being a carpetbagger, with no Arizona roots.

Well, McCain said, his father had been in the Navy, and they did move a lot. "I guess the place I've lived the longest was Hanoi," McCain said, in a reference to his 5 1/2 years as a prisoner of war.

The North Vietnamese offered him early release because his father was an admiral, but he declined. He is an authentic hero who does not talk about the war much.

A person could see much of what McCain is and does through the prism of his war experiences, but it would not be how or where he sees himself.

"I was privileged to serve in the company of heroes," McCain said. "I witnessed a thousand acts of compassion and love that was one the great honors of my life. But when I left Vietnam, I put it behind me. In other words, I never had a flashback, I never had a nightmare."

Now he is a senator in his third term who may run for president. There is no decision yet, aides say, and no date by which he must decide. He has a reputation as a media favorite and increasingly as a force to reckon with in the corridors of power.

A respected foreign policy voice, the 62-year-old McCain is also chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee.

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 and tough tobacco legislation. He is s self-appointed pork police, alert for pet projects that lawmakers slip into spending bills late at night.

Sara Fritz of Congressional Quarterly said of McCain, "Here we have a war hero, a very attractive guy who, if the time were right, if the Republican party were at a point where they could accept a moderate, he would be a very good choice."

When asked about running for president in 2000, the Arizona senator said, "The first group of people I'll talk to, of course, is my family and the second is the people of Arizona, do they want me to run or not? A lot of Arizonans are proud that Barry Goldwater was a candidate, that Morris Udall was a candidate, Bruce Babbitt was a candidate. Others say, no, just spend your time helping Arizona. So clearly, it's flattering, but I also know I am less than conventional in many respects."

One problem: reporters like him. They sense that he might actually run on principles, not polls. But reporters liked Bruce Babbitt too, and he lost.

McCain at the U.S.Naval

He does make the rounds. He's been in New Hampshire this year. As a senator, he is a standard conservative on most issues. He is anti-abortion and favors a flat tax.

But when he sponsored the tobacco bill, the industry, and many Republicans said he was a big-tax, big-government man. Republicans also sank his campaign finance bill.

One other problem: he has a past. He was not a star student at the Naval Academy and his first marriage collapsed after Vietnam.

"None of us have had perfect lives, and I certainly have not," McCain said. "And I've made mistakes and I've done things wrong. I've tried many times to atone for those mistakes. The fact is there are parts of my life that I would not like to see out before the American public, and I understand that that's a risk you take when you run for public office."

His second marriage, which has produced four kids, is a success, though his wife once admitted a now-conquered addiction to painkillers.

How much would he have to give up to run? Could he win?

"I frankly don't think the party is at the point where he could get the nomination," Congressional Quarterly's Fritz said.

But it's long time to Iowa and New Hampshire, and in the end it could depend on who puts together the best organization and who can raise the most money in 1999.

CNN's Bruce Morton and Candy Crowley contributed to this report.


GOP's war on pet projects bogs down in temptation (08-25-98)

Senate kills tobacco bill (06-17-98)


Sen. John McCain's Web site


Streaming Video: Sen. John McCain interview (06-18-98)


Tuesday, December 22, 1998

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