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Discusses His Campaign

Location: Sunday Today


DAVID BLOOM, co-host: On CLOSE UP this morning, Arizona Senator John McCain. From the start, Senator McCain has gone his own way in this presidential campaign. In fact, he's ignored conventional wisdom and passed up the Iowa caucus. It's a big risk. Will it pay off? Senator John McCain joins us from New Hampshire this morning.

Good morning, Senator.

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Presidential Candidate): Good morning, David. How are you?

BLOOM: I'm well, thank you. Senator McCain, in New Hampshire, you're neck and neck with Governor Bush. More ominously for you, in South Carolina you trail the latest poll there by 22 points. Your strategy is to score a one-two punch in New Hampshire and South Carolina. Is that strategy still viable?

Sen. McCAIN: Well, we've gained some 20 points in the last two or three weeks. We're seeing significant traction throughout South Carolina. And I just came up from South Carolina last night. I'm very pleased with the progress we're making. Today, we just received the endorsement of the Concorde Monitor and the National Telegraph. Fifteen newspapers have endorsed my candidacy here. I think it's going to be very close here. I'm very optimistic and I'm very happy with the way the campaign is going. And in—and in South Carolina, we are—we're really gaining traction there, too. So I'm very happy with the way everything's going. And I admit to you, just as you said in the opening, this is a high-risk strategy. It's a high-risk campaign. BLOOM: Senator, a few weeks ago, you and Governor Bush both shook hands, agreed to run a positive campaign.

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

BLOOM: Now you say he's broken that pledge. Why?

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm. Well, he ran advertisements saying that I wanted to increase taxes by 40 billion, B, billion dollars. And that's a pretty volatile issue here in New Hampshire and around the country. It was wrong and these people knew it's wrong. I understand they're taking it down. So I'm glad that they are and we'll take our ad down in response, too.

BLOOM: So you're going to pull down the ad that you're running against him now?

Sen. McCAIN: Well, if he pulls—we think they have pulled down their ad. And, of course, we will pull down ours if they pull down theirs. But we can't allow Governor Bush speaking in the camera that I'm going to raise taxes by $ 40 billion to go unresponded to. And frankly, I think...

BLOOM: But he says—he says...

Sen McCAIN: That was a violation of the handshake.

BLOOM: Senator McCain, he says he's not attacking you, he's just saying that your tax cut plan, the numbers don't add up...

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

BLOOM: And that it's short on details. Is that a negative attack?

Sen. McCAIN: He states specifically that—that I'm cutting—that I'm raising taxes by $ 40 billion. He knows it's wrong. We've proven it's wrong. And I think that's why they're taking their ad down. We had to respond to it. But more importantly is, the question is, what do you do with the surplus? And I want to give middle-class tax breaks, money into Social Security, and to Medicare, and pay down the debt. All of Governor Bush's surplus, he wants to put all of it into tax cuts, not one penny for paying down the debt, not—not one penny for the non-Social Security surplus and not one penny for Medicare. That's what this debate is really all about, David. And the majority of Americans...

BLOOM: Governor Bush—Governor...

Sen McCAIN: Majority of Republicans support my position.

BLOOM: Governor Bush says that the two of you are friends and will remain friends after this campaign. Is that still true?

Sen McCAIN: Oh, sure. I have—I have—we're friends. I admire and respect him and—and we will continue, not only to be friends, but we'll continue to re—conduct this campaign in a respectful fashion. That's what the people of New Hampshire and this country expect and will get.

BLOOM: But you think that you'd make a better president than he would. Why?

Sen. McCAIN: Well, I think my life experiences, my legislative experiences. But most importantly, what this really comes down to, especially this time, is how you can articulate your vision for the future of the country, how you can lead, how you're capable to inspire a generation of young Americans to commit themselves to causes greater than their self-interests. That's really what being president of the United States is all about and that's what I'm convinced that I can do better than any—any candidate.

BLOOM: Senator McCain, Governor Bush has tried to paint you as a liberal, you're for a big tobacco tax, you're for campaign finance reform, you're for a small tax cut. Aren't you out of step with your party?

Sen. McCAIN: Well, as I mentioned, a majority of Republicans support my position on what we do with the surpluses, because they think, as I do, that it's conservative to pay down a debt that we're laying on the next generation of children, and we think it's conservative to fix Social Security so that middle class Americans won't experience a payroll tax increase. It's conservative to put some money into Medicare so we can start to fix it. And Governor Bush has not a single penny so far that he's identified either in closing tax loopholes or in spending cuts. I've identified billions, and billions, and billions of spending cuts. I think that's conservative.

BLOOM: Let me ask you about a hot button issue in South Carolina, the Confederate flag. You first said...

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

BLOOM: And I'm quoting here, that the flag is 'offensive in many, many ways, a symbol of racism and slavery.'

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

BLOOM: Then you backtracked and said that it's up to the people of South Carolina to make a decision about whether the flag comes down. Now even South Carolina's governor says the flag...

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

BLOOM: Should not fly over the State Capitol there. Will you at least say that today, that the flag should not fly over the State Capitol?

Sen. McCAIN: I will say, as I said to people who came into Arizona to try to tell us what to do when we were struggling for—in the fight to recognize Dr. Martin Luther King as a holiday. It doesn't help in South Carolina for people to parachute in, just as it didn't help in Arizona for people to come in and try and tell us what to do. I want the people of...

BLOOM: But—but you pride yourself...

Sen McCAIN: South Carolina to make the decision.

BLOOM: But Senator McCain, you pride yourself on being a straight talker.

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

BLOOM: In your own opinion, should they be flying that flag?

Sen. McCAIN: In my own opinion, the people of South Carolina should be making that decision and I have every confidence that they will, in my own opinion.

BLOOM: You believe that they'll do what?

Sen. McCAIN: I'm sure that they will work this issue out and I think that they will do it to the benefit and satisfaction to the people of South Carolina, who are best equipped to address this issue.

BLOOM: Last question. On this notion of the—the one-two knockout punch win in New Hampshire, win in South Carolina, if you don't win in both of those places, Senator, do you plan on dropping out of this presidential race?

Sen. McCAIN: No. We'll go to—March 7th will be, probably, the definitive date, David. But I don't know what, quote, 'win' is, because that will be in a perception situation depending on what happens out of Iowa tomorrow. But we'll do very well here. We may win by a few points, lose by a few points. I think it's going to be very close. We're coming along in South Carolina. Of course, we will continue on because I know we will do well. And I think it will be a very...

BLOOM: Sen...

Sen. McCAIN: Interesting and good race.

BLOOM: Senator John McCain, thank you for joining us this morning.

Sen. McCAIN: Thank you.

BLOOM: When we return, Soledad talks to the other maverick on the campaign trail, Bill Bradley, right after this.

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