MR. GIBSON: The latest South Carolina polls show John McCain leading the pack just slightly ahead of Mike Huckabee with Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson trailing behind. But today, Romney promised to give McCain, the South Carolina poll leader, a run for his money. Republican presidential candidate John McCain joins us live now from South Carolina with a "Big Story" exclusive.
Senator, welcome. It's good to see you.
SEN. MCCAIN: Thanks, John and Heather.
MR. GIBSON: The economy evidently played a big part of the race in Michigan. Do you think it will in South Carolina?
SEN. MCCAIN: Well, the economy here has had great difficulties, as we all know. There's been a flight of manufacturing jobs, especially textile mill jobs. But they've also had some good businesses come and locate here. And the state government, the governor and the legislature have done a great job. They have programs for training workers for businesses that come and locate here. They have low taxes. They have a business climate that's very friendly. And so the economy of South Carolina, although still having great difficulty, is moving along a lot better.
MR. GIBSON: Senator, you might have paid the price for straight talk in Michigan. Do voters want to hear the truth?
SEN. MCCAIN: Oh, I'm sure they do. And if, you know, if that's a reason for me to lose, then that's fine with me. But the point is that you've got to tell them the truth, and I always tell them the truth. And the issue in this campaign is going to be who is best capable of taking on radical Islamic extremism. We're in two wars. We're facing incredible challenges national security-wise. And I think that at the end of the day is why I'll probably succeed.
MS. NAUERT: Senator, Mitt Romney in his success in Michigan changed his message quite a bit and really started talking a lot about bringing jobs back to Michigan. You said certainly that that simply isn't possible. You say that voters want the truth, but is it possible to win if voters just don't want to hear that?
SEN. MCCAIN: Well, Heather, I mean, let's take my comments in its full context. I said some of the old jobs were not coming back. But I said I'm excited and optimistic about the technology that's there at the auto show in Detroit, the hybrid cars, the electric cars, the hydrogen cars. I mean, there's great potential there. And I'm very confident that Michigan will come back and lead the world. You forgot that part of the equation, but that's not surprising given the nature of the campaign that Governor Romney's been running. But I'm a pretty big boy. But I'm optimistic about the future of America and Detroit, because they led the world before, and they can do that again with the kind of innovation and incredibly productive worker they have there in Michigan.
MS. NAUERT: Well, I guess what I was really getting at is that, you know, his message has become more populist. The Democrat's has, too. Are you planning on changing your message at all?
SEN. MCCAIN: Look, I'm optimistic. I don't know exactly what you mean by the message, but I'm optimistic about the future of America. We will never surrender to our enemies which are implacable. We are succeeding in Iraq despite all of my other opponent's failure to appreciate the failure of the Rumsfeld strategy. In fact, Governor Romney called for a withdrawal from Iraq like the Democrats did. But look, I'm happy about our campaign. I'm excited about here in South Carolina. And I still believe that the future of this nation and the well-being of the men and women who serve it are the most important factors in America's decision-making.
MR. GIBSON: Senator, there's been -- as you know, there's kind of a conservative campaign against you from a lineup of conservative talk show hosts and think tanks. I got an e-mail just a minute ago. What do you say to the conservatives who are asking themselves, is McCain conservative enough?
SEN. MCCAIN: Well, I had Dr. and Senator Tom Coburn around with me today, Marty Feldstein, Jack Kemp's campaigning with me tomorrow. But most importantly, in New Hampshire we won all segments of the Republican base. And I believe, again, conservative Republicans are most concerned about the issue of our nation's security. I think it's clear that my involvement in every national security challenge for the last 20 years will, I think, attract a good portion of them, and most of them I hope. And I think I'll match my conservative record up against anybody's that's running. And I don't switch positions either.
MS. NAUERT: Senator, let me ask you about South Carolina politics. It's notoriously dirty down there and sort of stumbled you, of course, in the year 2000. Already, some nasty stuff is going out there about you right now. So you ready for a street fight down there?
SEN. MCCAIN: Well, we've got a group of people like the attorney general and the adjutant general of the National Guard here and the speaker of the House and others, and they're kind of a truth squad, and they've been tracking this, and they're going to make a lot of the responses that are necessary. I just don't think that the people of South Carolina like that very much. And I think we'll be able to rebut it and put it down. The majority of South Carolinians don't like that. They're wonderful people.
MR. GIBSON: Senator John McCain, a "Big Story" exclusive. Senator, thanks, and we'll talk to you later.
MS. NAUERT: Thanks, Senator.
SEN. MCCAIN: Thanks, John and Heather.