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NBC "Today" Interview - Transcript


Location: New York City, NY

NBC "Today" Interview

MR. LAUER: Senator John McCain will campaign in California and end his day in his home state of Arizona, but he starts his day with us here in Studio 1A in New York.

Senator, good morning. Nice to see you.

SEN. MCCAIN: Good morning, Matt.

MR. LAUER: Let me ask you about your emotions --

SEN. MCCAIN: It's a great day.

MR. LAUER: Well, let me ask you about emotions. After so many years in the Senate, after so much thought of the presidency, after disappointment in the year 2000, when you hear the pundits and the political bean-counters say you could get this thing, or at least close to wrapping it up today, what are your thoughts on that?

SEN. MCCAIN: My thoughts are I've seen this movie before. (Laughs.)

MR. LAUER: (Laughs.) You don't want to jinx it?

SEN. MCCAIN: It's well-known I'm very superstitious, because I think I'm a very lucky person, so there's no reason not to be superstitious. And so I carry around my penny that I found with the head up. Actually it was given to me. And we're just -- I'm optimistic. But we've got a ways to go.

MR. LAUER: You do seem more buoyant than I've seen you in a long time.

SEN. MCCAIN: Well, we're excited about it, you know. And I'm happy that we're doing as well as we are. But we still have -- this could be a long night. California's tightening up. I can tell you all the scenarios. But overall we've had a great ride and a lot of fun. And when you get people like Rudy Giuliani and Steve Forbes and Jack Kemp -- people are coming together in our campaign, and that's great.

MR. LAUER: The good news is you got people saying you're close; you're on the verge of something. The bad news is you're under assault, and it seems to be a two-front assault, one on your conservative credentials, the other on your temperament.

Rush Limbaugh, as we've said, said that you could destroy the Republican Party. Conservative pundit Ann Coulter suggests that if you get the nomination on the Republican side, she might even go out and campaign for Hillary Clinton.

SEN. MCCAIN: (Laughs.) That would be a sight to behold. (Laughs.)

MR. LAUER: How does it feel to be on the verge of this, feeling this within your grasp, and face the biggest hurdles coming from people in your own party?

SEN. MCCAIN: Oh, look, I know that there's passions. There's very strong allegiance to other candidates. This kind of thing happens near the end of campaigns. All kinds of accusations fly. But we're keeping -- we keep going, keep going. And I'm very happy with where we are.

MR. LAUER: How much clout do you think they have, these conservative voices on the radio? How much clout?

SEN. MCCAIN: Oh, I think they're very influential and very highly respected. And we have a number of people on our side. Bill O'Reilly's been defending us. Some of the others have been defending us as well; Bill Bennett, some others. But, look, I understand it. And my job is to convince everybody that, especially in that area, I'm the conservative candidate. I've got the record. And I can lead this nation in the struggle against radical Islamic extremism. I've got the knowledge, the background and the judgment.

MR. LAUER: And you're doing that in television ads that I've seen, and Bob Dole has written a letter to Rush Limbaugh defending your conservative credentials as well.

The other side of the assault I mentioned seems to be more personal. I'm curious about your take on this. It's about your temperament, your temper, your demeanor. Rick Santorum, the former senator from Pennsylvania, said, "John is rough in the sandbox. Everybody has a McCain story. He hasn't built up a lot of good will." Thad Cochran, senator from Mississippi, a conservative: "He's erratic. He's hot-headed. He loses his temper. He worries me."

Why are they saying these things about you?

SEN. MCCAIN: Well, first of all, I have a very large number of my fellow senators, ranging from former Majority Leader Howard Baker and Bob Dole and all those people, who obviously refute that.

But, look, do I get angry sometimes? Should I get angry when there's a guy named Abramoff that's ripping off Native American tribes of millions of dollars? Should I get angry when I see this pork- barrel spending that goes on? Should I get angry on behalf of my constituents when I see a $6 billion ripoff on an airplane? Of course. I've never been elected Miss Congeniality, because I've fought against these practices which have caused the American people to hold us in such low esteem.

But on the other side, I have very close relationships, close friendships. So many of them are with me and campaigning with me. And in all due respect, a couple of those people that are criticizing me, they're not the most respected members of the United States Senate, to be honest with you. Bob Dole, Howard Baker Trent Lott -- we could go down the list.

MR. LAUER: You're more comfortable with the people on your team than the people making these comments against you.

SEN. MCCAIN: Sure, sure. And this isn't an easy time. But I am the conservative in the race.

MR. LAUER: If you get close to the number of delegates you need by this time tomorrow to win the nomination, do you expect any kind of magnanimous gesture from Mitt Romney, considering the tone of this campaign over the last several weeks?

SEN. MCCAIN: Well, I would hope so. I know there would be from Governor Huckabee if he doesn't win, because he's a very fine man. I would hope so. But, look, that's -- honestly, that's the last thought from my mind. The point is to get through these and win them and then get the momentum necessary.

MR. LAUER: Good luck to you today, Senator.

SEN. MCCAIN: Thanks, Matt.

MR. LAUER: Thanks for starting your day with us. I appreciate it.

SEN. MCCAIN: Thanks for having me on.

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