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A NewsChannel 15 Interview with Republican presidential candidate John McCain

April 20, 2007

We Pick Presidents

A NewsChannel 15 Interview with Republican presidential candidate John McCain

John McCain, the senior Senator from Arizona, is a frontrunner in the race for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination.  NewsChannel 15’s Jim Heath interviewed McCain on his campaign bus the “Straight Talk Express” Wednesday during a campaign swing from Murrells Inlet to Charleston.

HEATH: Senator McCain, good to see you.

McCAIN: Thanks Jim.

HEATH: Here we are riding on the Straight Talk Express. Would you have imagined after the 2000 campaign that you’d be back in South Carolina seven years later running for the nomination again?

McCAIN:  I didn’t (laughing).  Frankly, I certainly didn’t contemplate that.

HEATH: There are memories from that 2000 campaign of the Star Wars theme music you used at events, calling yourself Luke Skywalker battling the Death Star. Different movie, different theme song this time around?

McCAIN: Pretty much the same themes. The world has changed since 9/11, and then of course add in the whole new dimensions of the challenge that we face. Overwhelming dimensions. We’re now in a struggle with Islamic extremism and it’s going to be with us a long time. We didn’t have that in 2000.

HEATH: You visited Iraq recently and attempted to show that there are places in Baghdad were people go visit freely, yet, there were pictures of you surrounded by dozens of troops and Apache helicopters in the air. Do you wish you could do that over again?

McCAIN: Well, life isn’t fair but the fact is that market that I went to whether there was armed people or not wasn’t a market two months before. In fact it was the scene of a horrific bombing that killed a couple hundred people. I never said it was easy, I never said it was safe. I said it’s safer and things are better. And I don’t think the American people are seeing some of the visible signs of progress which gives me guarded optimism.

HEATH:  Is it possible that come fall, Senator John McCain could say: “I called for a troop surge in Iraq years ago, it was done too late, and now I’ve changed my view that more troops are working.”

hpc-larger.jpgMcCAIN: I don’t think there would be a significant alteration. I think this is the only strategy that can bring us success. If we fail, then obviously we have to consider other options. But, when General Grant said he was going to take Richmond, they didn’t ask him “what’s Plan B?” When Dwight David Eisenhower said they were going to invade Normandy they didn’t ask him what Plan B was. So I’m always intrigued by, we’ve only just begun this new strategy, only three of the five brigades are there, and already, well, “what’s your alternative?” Well, we’ll have plenty of time to examine alternatives if this fails.

HEATH: And you would say what, in a nutshell, to the American people who are so dissatisfied and impatient with this plan?

McCAIN: Well, that dissatisfaction is understandable. We had a terribly flawed strategy that caused us a great sacrifice of American blood and treasure. And we are where we are though, and now I think we can succeed. But I certainly understand the frustration of the American people.

HEATH:  On illegal immigration, many conservatives say they’d like to see a wall up along the Mexican border. You are a Senator from the southwest. Will that work?

McCAIN: We need to enforce our borders and that should be our first priority. I’m certainly committed to that. I believe in some parts of Arizona you can use sensors and UAV’s and other high tech equipment to succeed. But we also have to have comprehensive reform, a temporary worker program that works. We have to somehow dispose the twelve million people already here illegally. And, so, we need a comprehensive plan that does not include amnesty, anyone who has broken our laws has to pay a penalty for it. And hopefully we can come up with a proposal pretty soon.

HEATH: You said after losing here in 2000 that the only regret you had was not telling South Carolinians that you felt the confederate flag should be removed from the statehouse. Last week, USC coach Steve Spurrier went further and said it should be banned altogether. Do you agree with him?

McCAIN: Well, I thought there was a bipartisan resolution to the issue. I’d be glad to look at it again, but everybody, I was told, for the last six years seemed to be satisfied with the situation.

HEATH: I think Spurrier was suggesting that as long as a NAACP boycott was on the state, the NCAA and other economic interests would not consider coming here.

McCAIN: I haven’t caught up with the issue. So, next time you and I are together I’ll have something more definitive to talk about.

HEATH:  You have suggested Republicans need to do a better job on promoting alternative fuels.  What are those?

McCAIN: We need to go to nuclear power. We need ethanol. We need a whole lot of things to reduce greenhouse gas emission and reduce our dependency on foreign oil. We need to act quickly. Ethanol is part of the solution, nuclear power as I mentioned. There are many options. Alternate fuels are necessary and we’re going to have to make it our highest priority.

HEATH: What’s your thought on the Supreme Courts 5-4 decision to uphold a ban on Partial Birth Abortion?

McCAIN: I think it’s a great thing and I think it’s significant that I, and other Republicans and Democrats, worked together to make sure that these two great Supreme Court justices Roberts and Alito were confirmed. And I’m proud of the work we did, and I’m proud of the Supreme Court of this ruling.

HEATH:  Some of our mutual friends in Arizona say privately we haven’t seen the “fighter” John McCain yet in this campaign. That there hasn’t been much energy from you or the campaign thus far. How do you answer them?

McCAIN: Just come ride the bus with us. We work 24/7.  We have great town hall meetings in Iowa, New Hampshire and here in South Carolina. Have great turnouts this morning. We’re doing just fine. I don’t know where that springs from, but I can guess (laughing).

HEATH: Are you surprised after what you went through here in South Carolina in 2000, that Rudy Giuliani, who is certainly to your political left on some social issues, is doing as well as he is here?

McCAIN: No, I don’t think so. He is very well known and very well respected and I think that has a lot to do with it. He deserves it, our respect. He’s quite a guy.

HEATH:  I interviewed him a couple weeks ago, and we recalled that the two of you sat together for several games at the 2001 World Series between Arizona and New York. Would you have imagined then five years later you both would be leading the field?

McCAIN: (laughing) I certainly did not.

HEATH: Could a conservative candidate who appeals to upstate evangelical voters change this whole dynamic around?

McCAIN: I don’t know. It’s so early in the season. I know there will be surprises, there always is. This time in 1999 we were only three percent with a five percent margin of error (laughing).  I think a whole lot of things are going to happen that are surprises before this thing is decided. But South Carolina will remain a key and vital aspect of whoever wants to get the nomination.

HEATH: Do you like this process? The millions of dollars that Mitt Romney, and you and Giuliani are raising. The money game?  It seems to be a game of who can raise the most money.

McCAIN: Well, obviously, it’s one of the benchmarks that the media and political people use to see how you’re doing. I spent a lot of the time in the Senate and not as much time as I should have out fundraising, but we’re going to fine. We’ll do better next quarter. It’s, as I say, like spring training.

HEATH:  Senator thank’s for letting us ride along today.

McCain:  Enjoyed it, thank you Jim.

Our special report  “On the Straight Talk Express with John McCain” airs next Thursday night on NewsChannel 15 at 6.  See the story at www.wpde.com/politics

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