The senator has worked tirelessly to keep up his base in his adopted home state, flying home most weekends to be with his wife and children in Phoenix. But he also stood up against a popular English-language-only state ballot initiative because he thought it was wrong.
He lists as a role model former Sen. William Proxmire, the maverick Democrat from Wisconsin who made a career out of exposing wasteful government spending, which he publicized with a monthly "Golden Fleece" award. Proxmire, he notes, "was willing to take on the entire [Senate] because he was doing what he thought was right."
In the same vein, McCain, the son and grandson of admirals and an advocate of a strong national defense, has tried, with some success, to thwart pork-barrel military spending designed mainly to help members of Congress with the voters back home. (He was defeated, however, when he tried to shut down the VIP parking lot for congress members at National Airport.)
As an opponent of abortion rights, he passes the litmus test of his party's social conservative wing.
But he infuriated many fellow Vietnam War veterans with his support for normalizing relations with Vietnam, which gave the Clinton administration the political cover needed to take that step.
Over the years, he says, he's increasingly come to see the wisdom of using government action to help the poor. That populist tinge to his thinking may, however, put McCain out of step with many of the conservatives who dominate his party's presidential primaries.
"For me to be a viable presidential candidate, there would have to be a different environment from what existed in 1996," McCain says. "I think they'd have to be looking for someone who is not the, quote, mainstream conservative Republican. I'll match my conservative credentials with anybody, but I know there are some people who wouldn't agree with a lot of the things that I've done."
His pollster, Bill McInturff, has advised McCain not to seek another Senate term in 1998 if he wants to run for president. McInturff contends that McCain would need that year -- and more -- to compete with other Republican presidential hopefuls who are already gearing up for 2000.
McCain rejects that advice.
"For me to say, 'Look, I want to be president of the United States, and I'm not going to run for re-election' and [instead] start in on calling people in Iowa and raising money -- I'm just not capable [of doing that]," says McCain.
"There's just too many things I want to do here in the Senate."
Pub Date: 12/16/96