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NBC "Meet the Press" - Transcript

Interview

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Location: Unknown

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GREGORY: That full conversation is up next. But first, let's go live to Washington this morning to talk to the one man who knows exactly the pressure that Mitt Romney will be under this Thursday, the 2008 Republican nominee for president, Senator John McCain. Senator, welcome back.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ, 2008 Republican Presidential Nominee): Thanks.

GREGORY: Let's talk about the weather Senator because it's ironic, but four years ago as the nominee of the party, you were in this very same position with Hurricane Gustav barreling toward New Orleans, there was a real perception problem with you and the Republicans going forward with a convention. You cut short the convention as well. Do you think there could be a further delay down here?

SEN. MCCAIN: I-- I trust the judgment of your weather expert on that, David. I certainly hope that we can begin the real business of the convention on Tuesday. Those are the important three days and so I hope we can move forward with it. If we don't I think it will be very unfortunate, not just for the Republican Party, but a long standing tradition of three or four days of intense political campaigning so that the Republican Party and the nominee can make their case.

GREGORY: Senator, you've dealt, as I say, not just with the practical concerns that they're dealing with here, real safety concerns--transportation, power and otherwise--but also the perception of beginning a big convention for a party when you've got, you know, what could be a huge disaster that's brewing for even other parts of the state. How sensitive, in your judgment, do they have to be about the optics of this, the politics, the perception of it?

SEN. MCCAIN: Well, obviously, I think they have to be and I think they are, that's why they very early on canceled the first day so that people can make arrangements. But David, as you know, it's Wednesday and Thursday night that are the big moments. Now people have these things called channel changers so it's not that there's-- that we don't want those that first night, but I don't think it will be damaging if we lose the first night, but it could be harmful if we lose more than that.

GREGORY: There's been another distraction this week and it's political in nature. The Missouri Congressman Todd Akin with his ill-informed comments about rape and abortion. You were astounded by it. Mitt Romney said he should get out of the race, the reality is, he said no. This was his response on Friday.

(Videotape; Friday)

REP. TODD AKIN (R-Missouri): We're going to be here through the November election, and we're going to be here to win.

(End videotape)

GREGORY: And just this morning, senator, your former colleague, Olympia Snowe from Maine, Republican from that state who's now left the senate, she writes an op-ed in which she says that the comments from Akin reinforce the perception that we in the Republican Party are unsympathetic to issues of paramount concern to women. How big a hole did Akin dig that Romney now has to climb out of?

SEN. MCCAIN: It's a big problem. There's no doubt about that. And Mr. Akin should recognize that having the nomination of your party is a privilege and if you abuse that privilege then you are not eligible for-- to keep it. What he did was unaccept-- what he said was unacceptable. And we Republicans have to consider all options and-- and to start with, making sure that Mr. Akin knows he will not have the support of the mainstream Republican Party or any of our organizations. It's-- it's one of those things.

But you know, David, you-- you were talking about it earlier what the Republicans have to do. I'm surprised that we are neck that, "we," Romney-Ryan ticket are neck and neck in the polls right now particularly given a couple of the setbacks that we have experienced, which means to me that this attack strategy of Obama not being able to defend his record is wearing a little thin with the American people. So I'm overall optimistic. I, like others, urge Mr. Akin to abandon his quest for the United States Senate because, frankly, he would not be welcomed by Republicans in the United States Senate.

GREGORY: Are you concerned when you hear the-- the birther joke, the birth certificate joke that Mitt Romney made the other day, that that's indicative of Romney trying to placate a part of the party that he doesn't hold sway over and that he does so at his peril when he reaches out to undecided voters, the middle of the road voters?

SEN. MCCAIN: No. I think it was an attempted humor. And one thing I regret about American politics is that nobody seems to have a sense of humor anymore. It was an attempted humor. And so sometimes these speeches even become more dull and boring by all candidates if you're not allowed to have a little humor.

GREGORY: Well, let me ask you about the speech that he's got to give. I wanted to speak to you this morning because you have unique insight into that pressure of going into a convention, connecting your vision and a roadmap for the future with the American people. You mentioned something significant--this is a tight race because of the state of the economy, but you also know that Governor Romney has some image problems, about his business background, about this issue of his tax returns, his standing with average voters, with women, with Latinos. Does he need a game change in this convention?

SEN. MCCAIN: No, I don't think so. I think what he needs to do is try to reinforce his message. The reality is that he's been heavily outspent by President Obama campaign up until now where he will now have some advantage. But up till now, the-- the negative ad campaign by President Obama has been much more heavily outspent Mitt Romney's. Second of all, we have to appeal, as you say, to Hispanic voters and to women. We have to point out that the unemployment rate amongst young women is now 16 percent, that the unemployment amongst Hispanics is very high, that jobs and the economy are more important perhaps than maybe other issues. We are a big-tent party. We have to give that message and we have to repeat that message over and over again. And jobs and the economy are the best way we can help both of those groups of Americans who obviously we have an uphill task and it is a tough task, but I'm confident we can do it.

GREGORY: Senator McCain, thank you very much. We appreciate you on this show, as always.

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