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Talks About His Victory Over Bush In the NH Primary (Interview)

Location: Larry King Live

HEADLINE: John McCain Trounces George Bush in New Hampshire Primary; Al Gore Beats Bill Bradley by Slim Margin


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: ... people and make them feel they're represented again. And we're having a great time. And could I finally add, Larry, just—this experience in New Hampshire, with the people of New Hampshire, has been one of the most wonderful experiences in my life. And I'd like to take the opportunity of thanking them. And we're headed down to South Carolina tonight.

KING: Cindy, what was it like for the wife of this candidate? Do you enjoy this? Did you like this New Hampshire scene? Are you looking forward to this long, hard road ahead?

CINDY MCCAIN, WIFE OF JOHN MCCAIN: I've had a great time in New Hampshire. The people down here are just wonderful and I've enjoyed every minute of it. And I'm looking forward to South Carolina. We've spent some time there and I think that if we take our message the right way and do what we've been doing down here, we're going to be successful.

KING: Were you like John? Were you surprised by the size of this win?

C. MCCAIN: I was a little bit, yes. We thought it would be maybe a little bit closer.

MCCAIN: Or a lot.

C. MCCAIN: We thought maybe it would be a little bit tougher, of course. And I'm just overwhelmed by the support of the New Hampshire people.

KING: Senator McCain, were you worried when, following Iowa, for two or three days there, the reports were that Governor Bush had passed you in the polls?

MCCAIN: I—of course, you're concerned. But what you've got to do is stay on your message and not be affected by the polls. But look, Governor Bush is a good candidate and a good man. We're going to have a real race. But I really believe the message is what's going to prevail for us over time.

But I—I've believed that this was going to be a lot closer than it was. And obviously there was a whole lot of people that came out to vote that had never voted before, and a lot of young people, and that's really the story of this race, so many people who have never been involved who were involved in our campaign, and also, again, a lot of independents. But we also carried rather handily the Republican vote as well.

KING: Now, Governor Bush said that—in congratulating you—he was just with us a couple of minutes ago. He said you obviously came at him from the left. You won the left tonight. And it apparently—and all our analysts here have agreed, he is going to go to the right and paint himself as the conservative Republican as you head to South Carolina. Do you see that coming?

MCCAIN: I don't know. We'll be running our own campaign. But I think it's conservative to pay down the debt and save Social Security and not put it all into tax cuts. I think it's conservative to want to get rid of the special interests. And I think it's conservative to really try to lead and convince people of your qualifications.

I—our exit polling data showed that we carried conservatives as well as moderates.

And so I look forward to a vigorous debate. You're going to be down in South Carolina and—at a debate, and I'll look forward to that. And I just think we won such a big victory. It was all encompassing tonight. And I don't intend to go right or left. I'm a proud conservative Republican and we're just going to stay on message.

KING: Do you expect, though, him to turn this right versus left? I mean, he literally said so tonight.

MCCAIN: I don't know. But I think that the people in South Carolina will examine my record and my positions. And I don't think that anybody can paint me as being anything but a proud conservative as I am, in the tradition of Ronald Reagan and my favorite, Theodore Roosevelt.

KING: Do you think you'll get on the ballot in New York?

MCCAIN: I don't know. I would ask our viewers to call Governor Pataki and call Governor Bush and ask them to let me on the ballot. I'm a viable candidate. The days of communism are over.

And by the way, if you want to know more about us,

KING: Do you think, by the way, that in view of this victory tonight, that should impress the Republican bigwigs in New York to let that down and put you on, just by the fact that it's the only one you've entered and you've won?

MCCAIN: Well, I hope so. Governor Bush just has to pick up the phone and tell Governor Pataki to let me on. That's all really that's necessary. But I tell you, we're in federal court with them and we'll take it to the floor of the convention, because this is the only state in America where they keep qualified candidates off the ballot and it's unfortunate for the Republican voters of New York.

But look, this is a happy night for us, Larry. We're exhilarated. We've had a wonderful experience, one I'll never forget. And we're going to be down at New Hampshire at 3:00 a.m. in the morning and campaigning hard in South Carolina with the same message of reform and giving the government back to the people.

KING: Do you have something scheduled in New—in South Carolina early tomorrow?

MCCAIN: We've got a 3:00 a.m. rally at the airport and then we've got a bunch of town-hall meetings tomorrow. So we're having fun.

KING: You're bringing town-hall meetings to South Carolina?

MCCAIN: We've already been doing them there and we have been very well received.

KING: And, Cindy, will you stay with John through the South Carolina campaign?

C. MCCAIN: Yes. I'm going to stay all the way through, all the way through until March 7th.

KING: We'll see you both down there. Again, congratulations, Senator.

MCCAIN: Thanks, Larry.

C. MCCAIN: Thank you.

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