McCain graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1958 and became a naval aviator, flying ground-attack aircraft from aircraft carriers. During the Vietnam War, he nearly lost his life in the 1967 USS Forrestal fire. Later that year while on a bombing mission over North Vietnam, he was shot down, badly injured, and captured as a prisoner of war by the North Vietnamese. He was held from 1967 to 1973, experiencing episodes of torture and refusing an out-of-sequence early repatriation offer; his war wounds would leave him with lifelong physical limitations.
He retired from the Navy as a captain in 1981 and, moving to Arizona, entered politics. Elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1982, he served two terms, and was then elected to the U.S. Senate in 1986, winning re-election easily in 1992, 1998, and 2004. While generally adhering to conservative principles, McCain has gained a media reputation as a "maverick" for disagreeing with his party on several key issues. After being investigated and largely exonerated in a political influence scandal of the 1980s as a member of the "Keating Five", he made campaign finance reform one of his signature concerns, which eventually led to the passage of the McCain-Feingold Act in 2002. He is also known for his work towards restoring diplomatic relations with Vietnam in the 1990s, and for his belief that the war in Iraq should be fought to a successful conclusion in the 2000s. McCain has chaired the powerful Senate Commerce Committee, and has been a leader in seeking to rein in both pork barrel spending as well as Senate filibusters of judicial nominations.
McCain lost his bid for the Republican nomination in the 2000 presidential election to George W. Bush. He ran again for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, and gained enough delegates to become the party's presumptive nominee in March 2008.
Early life and military career, 1936–1981
Formative years and education
John McCain was born at Coco Solo Naval Air Station in the Panama Canal Zone to naval officer John S. McCain, Jr. (1911–1981) and Roberta (Wright) McCain (b. 1912). At that time, the Panama Canal was under American control.
McCain has Scots-Irish, Anglo-Irish and English ancestry. His father and his paternal grandfather both became four-star United States Navy admirals. His family, including his older sister Sandy and younger brother Joe, followed his father to various naval postings in the United States and the Pacific. Altogether, he attended about 20 schools.
In 1951, his family settled in Northern Virginia, and McCain attended Episcopal High School, a private preparatory boarding school in Alexandria. In high school, he excelled at wrestling and graduated in 1954.
Following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, McCain entered the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis. There, he was a friend and informal leader for many of his classmates, and sometimes stood up for people who were being bullied. He also became a lightweight boxer. McCain came into conflict with higher-ranking personnel, he did not always obey the rules, and that contributed to a low class rank (894 of 899) which he did not aim to improve. He did well in academic subjects that interested him, such as literature and history, but studied only enough to pass subjects he struggled with, such as mathematics, McCain graduated in 1958.
Naval training, first marriage, and Vietnam assignment
McCain's pre-combat duty began when he was commissioned an ensign, and started two and a half years of training as a naval aviator at Pensacola. There he also earned a reputation as a partying man. Graduating from flight school in 1960, he became a naval pilot of ground-attack aircraft. McCain was then stationed in A-1 Skyraider squadrons, on the aircraft carriers USS Intrepid and USS Enterprise, in the Caribbean and Mediterranean Seas. The planes he was flying crashed twice and once collided with power lines, but he received no major injuries.
McCain requested a combat assignment, and was assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal flying A-4 Skyhawks. His combat duty began when he was 30 years old, in summer 1967, when Forrestal was assigned to a bombing campaign during the Vietnam War. McCain and his fellow pilots became frustrated by micromanagement from Washington, and he would later write that "In all candor, we thought our civilian commanders were complete idiots who didn't have the least notion of what it took to win the war."
By then a lieutenant commander, McCain was almost killed on July 29, 1967, when he was near the center of the Forrestal fire. He escaped from his burning jet and was trying to help another pilot escape when a bomb exploded; McCain was struck in the legs and chest by fragments. The ensuing fire killed 134 sailors and took 24 hours to control. With the Forrestal out of commission, McCain volunteered for assignment with the USS Oriskany.
Prisoner of war
John McCain's capture and imprisonment began on October 26, 1967. He was flying his 23rd bombing mission over North Vietnam, when his A-4E Skyhawk was shot down by a missile over Hanoi. McCain fractured both arms and a leg, and then nearly drowned, when he parachuted into Truc Bach Lake in Hanoi. After he regained consciousness, a crowd attacked him, crushed his shoulder with a rifle butt, and bayoneted him. Lieutenant Commander McCain was then transported to Hanoi's main Hoa Lo Prison, nicknamed the "Hanoi Hilton".
Although McCain was badly wounded, his captors refused to treat his injuries, instead beating and interrogating him to get information, and he was given medical care only when the North Vietnamese discovered that his father was a top admiral. His status as a prisoner of war (POW) made the front pages of major newspapers.
McCain spent six weeks in the hospital while receiving marginal care. Now having lost 50 pounds (23 kg), in a chest cast, and with his hair turned white, McCain was sent to a different camp on the outskirts of Hanoi in December 1967, into a cell with two other Americans who did not expect him to live a week. In March 1968, McCain was put into solitary confinement, where he would remain for two years.
In mid–1968, McCain's father was named commander of all U.S. forces in the Vietnam theater, and McCain was offered early release. The North Vietnamese made that offer because they wanted to appear merciful for propaganda purposes and also wanted to show other POWs that elites like McCain were willing to be treated preferentially. McCain turned down the offer of repatriation; he would only accept the offer if every man taken in before him was released as well.
In August 1968, a program of severe torture began on McCain. He was subjected to rope bindings and repeated beatings every two hours, at the same time as he was suffering from dysentery. Further injuries led to the beginning of a suicide attempt, which was stopped by guards. After four days, McCain made an anti-American propaganda "confession". He has always felt that his statement was dishonorable, but as he would later write, "I had learned what we all learned over there: Every man has his breaking point. I had reached mine." His injuries left him permanently incapable of raising his arms above his head. He subsequently received two to three beatings per week because of his continued refusal to sign additional statements. Other American POWs were similarly tortured and maltreated in order to extract "confessions" and propaganda statements.
McCain refused to meet with various anti-war groups seeking peace in Hanoi, wanting to give neither them nor the North Vietnamese a propaganda victory. From late 1969 onward, treatment of McCain and many of the other POWs became more tolerable, while McCain continued to be an active resister against the camp authorities. McCain and other prisoners cheered the B-52 Stratofortress-led U.S. "Christmas Bombing" campaign of December 1972, which they viewed as a forceful measure to push North Vietnam to terms.
Altogether, McCain was held as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam for five and a half years. He was finally released from captivity on March 14, 1973.
Commanding officer, liaison to Senate, and second marriage
McCain's return to the United States reunited him with his family. His wife Carol had suffered her own crippling ordeal during his captivity, due to an automobile accident in December 1969. Her husband became a celebrity of sorts, as a returned POW.
McCain underwent treatment for his injuries, including months of grueling physical therapy, and attended the National War College at Fort McNair in Washington, D.C. during 1973–1974. Having been rehabilitated, by late 1974, McCain had his flight status reinstated, and in 1976 he became commanding officer of a training squadron stationed in Florida. He turned around an undistinguished unit and won the squadron its first Meritorious Unit Commendation. During this period in Florida, McCain had extramarital affairs, and the McCains' marriage began to falter, for which he later would accept blame.
McCain served as the Navy's liaison to the U.S. Senate beginning in 1977. In retrospect, he has said that this represented his "real entry into the world of politics and the beginning of my second career as a public servant". His key behind-the-scenes role gained congressional financing for a new supercarrier against the wishes of the Carter administration.
In April 1979, McCain met Cindy Lou Hensley, a teacher from Phoenix, Arizona, whose father had founded a large beer distributorship. They began dating, and he urged his wife Carol to grant him a divorce, which she did in February 1980, with the uncontested divorce taking effect in April 1980. The settlement included two houses, and financial support for her ongoing medical treatments due to her 1969 car accident; they would remain on good terms. McCain and Hensley were married on May 17, 1980, with Senators William Cohen and Gary Hart attending as groomsmen. McCain’s children did not attend, and several years would pass before they reconciled. John and Cindy McCain entered into a prenuptial agreement that kept most of her family's assets under her name; they would always keep their finances apart and file separate income tax returns.
McCain decided to leave the Navy. It was doubtful whether he would ever be promoted to the rank of full admiral, as he had poor annual physicals and had been given no major sea command. His chances of being promoted to rear admiral were better, but McCain declined that prospect, as he had already made plans to run for Congress and said he could "do more good there." McCain retired from the Navy on April 1, 1981 as a captain. He was designated as disabled and awarded a disability pension. Upon leaving the military, he moved to Arizona. His 17 military awards and decorations include the Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star and Navy Commendation Medal, for actions before, during, and after his time as a POW.
House and Senate career, 1982–2000
- See also: Electoral history of John McCain
U.S. Congressman and a growing family
McCain set his sights on becoming a Congressman because he was interested in current events, was ready for a new challenge, and had developed political ambitions during his time as Senate liaison. Living in Phoenix, he went to work for Hensley & Co., his new father-in-law Jim Hensley's large Anheuser-Busch beer distributorship. As Vice President of Public Relations at the distributorship, he gained political support among the local business community, meeting powerful figures such as banker Charles Keating, Jr., real estate developer Fife Symington III and newspaper publisher Darrow "Duke" Tully. In 1982, McCain ran as a Republican for an open seat in Arizona's 1st congressional district. A newcomer to the state, McCain was hit with repeated charges of being a carpetbagger. McCain responded to a voter making that charge with what a Phoenix Gazette columnist would later describe as "the most devastating response to a potentially troublesome political issue I've ever heard":
Listen, pal. I spent 22 years in the Navy. My father was in the Navy. My grandfather was in the Navy. We in the military service tend to move a lot. We have to live in all parts of the country, all parts of the world. I wish I could have had the luxury, like you, of growing up and living and spending my entire life in a nice place like the First District of Arizona, but I was doing other things. As a matter of fact, when I think about it now, the place I lived longest in my life was Hanoi.
With the assistance of local political endorsements, his Washington connections, as well as money that his wife lent to his campaign, McCain won a highly contested primary election. He then easily won the general election in the heavily Republican district.
In 1983, McCain was elected to lead the incoming group of Republican representatives. Also that year, he opposed creation of a federal Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, but admitted in 2008: "I was wrong and eventually realized that, in time to give full support [in 1990] for a state holiday in Arizona."
McCain's politics at this point were mainly in line with President Ronald Reagan, and he was active on Indian Affairs bills. He won re-election to the House easily in 1984.
In 1984 McCain and his wife Cindy had their first child together, daughter Meghan. She was followed two years later by son John Sidney McCain IV (known as "Jack"), and in 1988 by son James. In 1991, Cindy McCain brought an abandoned three-month old girl needing medical treatment to the U.S. from a Bangladeshi orphanage run by Mother Teresa. The McCains decided to adopt her, and named her Bridget.
First two terms in U.S. Senate
McCain's Senate career began in January 1987, after he defeated his Democratic opponent, former state legislator Richard Kimball, by 20 percentage points in the 1986 election. McCain succeeded longtime American conservative icon and Arizona fixture Barry Goldwater upon the latter's retirement as United States Senator from Arizona.
Senator McCain became a member of the Armed Services Committee, with which he had formerly done his Navy liaison work; he also joined the Commerce Committee and the Indian Affairs Committee. McCain continued to support the Native American agenda. As first a House member and then a senator, McCain was one of the main authors of the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which codified rules regarding Native American gambling enterprises and established a balance between tribal sovereignty and state regulatory oversight over such enterprises. McCain was also a strong supporter of the Gramm-Rudman legislation that enforced automatic spending cuts in the case of budget deficits.
McCain soon gained national visibility. He delivered a well-received speech at the 1988 Republican National Convention, was mentioned by the press as a short list vice-presidential running mate for Republican nominee George H. W. Bush, and was named chairman of Veterans for Bush.
McCain became enmeshed in a scandal during the 1980s as one of five United States Senators comprising the so-called "Keating Five". Between 1982 and 1987, McCain had received $112,000 in lawful political contributions from Charles Keating Jr. and his associates at Lincoln Savings and Loan Association, along with trips on Keating's jets that McCain belatedly repaid two years later. In 1987, McCain was one of the five senators whom Keating contacted in order to prevent the government's seizure of Lincoln, and McCain met twice with federal regulators to discuss the government's investigation of Lincoln. On his Keating Five experience, McCain has said: "The appearance of it was wrong. It's a wrong appearance when a group of senators appear in a meeting with a group of regulators, because it conveys the impression of undue and improper influence. And it was the wrong thing to do." In the end, McCain was cleared by the Senate Ethics Committee of acting improperly or violating any law or Senate rule, but was mildly rebuked for exercising "poor judgment". In his 1992 re-election bid, the Keating Five affair was not a major issue, and he won handily, gaining 56 percent of the vote to defeat Democratic community and civil rights activist Claire Sargent and independent former Governor Evan Mecham.
McCain developed a reputation for independence, during the 1990s. He took pride in battling establishment forces, was willing to challenge party leadership, and became hard to categorize politically.
As a member of the 1991–1993 Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs, chaired by Democrat and fellow Vietnam War veteran John Kerry, McCain investigated the fate of U.S. service personnel listed as missing in action during the Vietnam War. The committee's unanimous report stated there was "no compelling evidence that proves that any American remains alive in captivity in Southeast Asia." Helped by McCain's efforts, in 1995 the U.S. normalized diplomatic relations with Vietnam. McCain was vilified by some POW/MIA activists who, unlike the Arizona senator, believed large numbers of Americans were still held against their will in Southeast Asia. Since January 1993, McCain has been Chairman of the International Republican Institute, an organization partly funded by the U.S. Government that supports the emergence of political democracy worldwide.
In 1993 and 1994, McCain voted to confirm President Clinton's nominees Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg whom he considered to be qualified for the U.S. Supreme Court. He would later explain that "under our Constitution, it is the president's call to make." McCain had also voted to confirm nominees of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, including Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas.
McCain attacked what he saw as the corrupting influence of large political contributions – from corporations, labor unions, other organizations, and wealthy individuals – and he made this his signature issue. Starting in 1994, he worked with Democratic Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold on campaign finance reform; their McCain-Feingold bill attempted to put limits on "soft money". The efforts of McCain and Feingold were opposed by some of the moneyed interests targeted, by incumbents in both parties, by those who felt spending limits impinged on free political speech and might be unconstitutional as well, and by those who wanted to counterbalance the power of what they saw as media bias. Despite sympathetic coverage in the media, initial versions of the McCain-Feingold Act were filibustered and never came to a vote. The term "maverick Republican" became a label frequently applied to McCain, and he has also used the term himself.
Another target of the Arizona senator was pork barrel spending by Congress, and he actively supported the Line Item Veto Act of 1996, which gave the president power to veto individual spending items. However, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1998 that the act was unconstitutional.
In the 1996 presidential election, McCain was again on the short list of possible vice-presidential picks, this time for Republican nominee Bob Dole. The following year, Time magazine named McCain as one of the "25 Most Influential People in America".
In 1997, McCain became chairman of the powerful Senate Commerce Committee; he was criticized for accepting funds from corporations and businesses under the committee's purview, but in response said the restricted contributions he received were not part of the big-money nature of the campaign finance problem. McCain took on the tobacco industry in 1998, proposing legislation that would increase cigarette taxes in order to fund anti-smoking campaigns, discourage teenage smokers, increase money for health research studies, and help states pay for smoking-related health care costs. Supported by the Clinton administration but opposed by the industry and most Republicans, the bill failed to gain cloture.
McCain won re-election to a third senate term in November 1998, prevailing in a landslide over his Democratic opponent, environmental lawyer Ed Ranger. In 1999, McCain shared the Profile in Courage Award with Feingold for their work in trying to enact their campaign finance reform, although the bill was still failing repeated attempts to gain cloture.
In August 1999, his memoir Faith of My Fathers, co-authored with Mark Salter, was published. The most successful of his writings, it received positive reviews, became a bestseller, and was later made into a movie. The book traces McCain's family background and childhood, also covering his time at Annapolis, and his service as a naval aviator before and during the Vietnam War, concluding with his release from captivity in 1973. According to one reviewer, the book describes "the kind of challenges that most of us can barely imagine. It's a fascinating history of a remarkable military family." Another reviewer observed that, "The appearance of John McCain's 'Faith of My Fathers' seems to have been timed to the unfolding Presidential campaign...."
2000 presidential campaign
McCain announced his candidacy for president on September 27, 1999 in Nashua, New Hampshire, saying he was staging "a fight to take our government back from the power brokers and special interests, and return it to the people and the noble cause of freedom it was created to serve". The leader for the Republican nomination was Texas Governor George W. Bush, who had the political and financial support of most of the party establishment.
McCain focused on the New Hampshire primary, where his message appealed to independents. He traveled on a campaign bus called the Straight Talk Express. He held many town hall meetings, answering every question voters asked, in a successful example of "retail politics", and he used free media to compensate for his lack of funds. One reporter later recounted that, "McCain talked all day long with reporters on his Straight Talk Express bus; he talked so much that sometimes he said things that he shouldn't have, and that's why the media loved him." On February 1, 2000, he won New Hampshire's primary with 49 percent of the vote to Bush's 30 percent. The Bush campaign and the Republican establishment feared that a McCain victory in the crucial South Carolina primary might give his campaign unstoppable momentum.
The Arizona Republic would write that the McCain-Bush primary contest in South Carolina "has entered national political lore as a low-water mark in presidential campaigns", while The New York Times called it "a painful symbol of the brutality of American politics". A variety of interest groups that McCain had challenged in the past ran negative ads. Bush borrowed McCain's earlier language of reform, and declined to disassociate himself from a veterans activist who accused McCain (in Bush's presence) of having "abandoned the veterans" on POW/MIA and Agent Orange issues.
Incensed, McCain ran ads accusing Bush of lying and comparing the governor to Bill Clinton, which Bush said was "about as low a blow as you can give in a Republican primary". An anonymous smear campaign began against McCain, delivered by push polls, faxes, e-mails, flyers, and audience plants. The smears claimed that McCain had fathered a black child out of wedlock (the McCains' dark-skinned daughter was adopted from Bangladesh), that his wife Cindy was a drug addict, that he was a homosexual, and that he was a "Manchurian Candidate" who was either a traitor or mentally unstable from his North Vietnam POW days. The Bush campaign strongly denied any involvement with the attacks.
McCain lost South Carolina on February 19, with 42 percent of the vote to Bush's 53 percent, in part because Bush mobilized the state's evangelical voters and outspent McCain. The win allowed Bush to regain lost momentum. McCain would say of the rumor spreaders, "I believe that there is a special place in hell for people like those." According to one report, the South Carolina experience left McCain in a "very dark place".
McCain's campaign never completely recovered from his South Carolina defeat, although he did rebound partially by winning in Arizona and Michigan a few days later. He made a speech in Virginia Beach that criticized Christian leaders, including Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, as divisive conservatives, declaring "... we embrace the fine members of the religious conservative community. But that does not mean that we will pander to their self-appointed leaders." McCain lost the Virginia primary on February 29, and on March 7 lost nine of the thirteen primaries on Super Tuesday to Bush. With little hope of overcoming Bush's delegate lead, McCain withdrew from the race on March 9, 2000. He endorsed Bush two months later, and made occasional appearances with the Texas governor during the general election campaign.
Senate career after 2000
Remainder of third Senate term
McCain began 2001 by breaking with the new George W. Bush administration on a number of matters, including HMO reform, climate change, and gun legislation; McCain-Feingold was opposed by Bush as well. In May 2001, McCain was one of only two Senate Republicans to vote against the Bush tax cuts. Besides the differences with Bush on ideological grounds, there was considerable antagonism between the two remaining from the previous year's campaign. Later, when Republican Senator Jim Jeffords became an Independent, throwing control of the Senate to the Democrats, McCain defended Jeffords against "self-appointed enforcers of party loyalty". Indeed, there was speculation at the time, and in years since, about McCain himself possibly leaving the Republican Party, but McCain has always adamantly denied that he ever considered doing so. Beginning in 2001, McCain used political capital gained from his presidential run, as well as improved legislative skills and relationships with other members, to become one of the Senate's most influential members.
After the September 11, 2001 attacks, McCain supported Bush and the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan. He and then-Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman wrote the legislation that created the 9/11 Commission, while he and Democratic Senator Fritz Hollings co-sponsored the Aviation and Transportation Security Act that federalized airport security.
In March 2002, McCain-Feingold passed in both Houses of Congress and was signed into law by President Bush. Seven years in the making, it was McCain's greatest legislative achievement.
Meanwhile, in discussions over proposed U.S. action against Iraq, McCain was a strong supporter of the Bush administration's position. He stated that Iraq was "a clear and present danger to the United States of America", and voted accordingly for the Iraq War Resolution in October 2002. He predicted that U.S. forces would be treated as liberators by a large number of the Iraqi people. In May 2003, McCain voted against the second round of Bush tax cuts, saying it was unwise at a time of war. By November 2003, after a trip to Iraq, he was publicly questioning Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, saying that more U.S. troops were needed; the following year, McCain announced that he had lost confidence in Rumsfeld.
In October 2003, McCain and Lieberman co-sponsored the Climate Stewardship Act that would have introduced a cap and trade system aimed at returning greenhouse gas emissions to 2000 levels; the bill was defeated with 55 votes to 43 in the Senate. They reintroduced modified versions of the Act two additional times, most recently in January 2007 with the co-sponsorship of Barack Obama, among others.
In the 2004 U.S. presidential election campaign, McCain was once again frequently mentioned for the vice-presidential slot, only this time as part of the Democratic ticket under nominee John Kerry. McCain said that Kerry had never formally offered him the position and that he would not have accepted it if he had. At the 2004 Republican National Convention, McCain supported Bush for re-election, praising Bush's management of the War on Terror since the September 11 attacks. At the same time, the Senator defended Kerry's Vietnam war record. By August 2004, McCain had the best favorable-to-unfavorable rating (55 percent to 19 percent) of any national politician; he campaigned for Bush much more than he had four years previously, though the two remained situational allies rather than friends.
McCain was also up for re-election as Senator in 2004. He defeated little-known Democratic schoolteacher Stuart Starky with his biggest margin of victory, garnering 77 percent of the vote.
Fourth Senate term
In May 2005, McCain led the so-called "Gang of 14" in the Senate, which established a compromise that preserved the ability of senators to filibuster judicial nominees, but only in "extraordinary circumstances". The compromise took the steam out of the filibuster movement, but some Republicans remained disappointed that the compromise did not eliminate filibusters of judicial nominees in all circumstances. McCain subsequently cast Supreme Court confirmation votes in favor of John Roberts and Samuel Alito, calling them "two of the finest justices ever appointed to the United States Supreme Court."
Breaking from his 2001 and 2003 votes, McCain supported the Bush tax cut extension in May 2006, saying not to do so would amount to a tax increase. Working with Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy, McCain was a strong proponent of comprehensive immigration reform, which would involve legalization, guest worker programs, and border enforcement components. The Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act was never voted on in 2005, while the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006 passed the Senate in May 2006 but failed in the House. In June 2007, President Bush, McCain, and others made the strongest push yet for such a bill, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007, but it aroused intense grassroots opposition among talk radio listeners and others, some of whom furiously characterized the proposal as an "amnesty" program, and the bill twice failed to gain cloture in the Senate.
By the mid-2000s, the increased Indian gaming that McCain had helped bring about was a $23 billion industry. He was twice chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, in 1995–1997 and 2005–2007, and his Committee helped expose the Jack Abramoff Indian lobbying scandal. By 2005 and 2006, McCain was pushing for amendments to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act that would limit creation of off-reservation casinos, as well as limiting the movement of tribes across state lines to build casinos.
Owing to his time as a POW, McCain has been recognized for his sensitivity to the detention and interrogation of detainees in the War on Terror. In October 2005, McCain introduced the McCain Detainee Amendment to the Defense Appropriations bill for 2005, and the Senate voted 90–9 to support the amendment. It prohibits inhumane treatment of prisoners, including prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, by confining military interrogations to the techniques in the U.S. Army Field Manual on Interrogation. Although Bush had threatened to veto the bill if McCain's amendment was included, the President announced in December 2005 that he accepted McCain's terms and would "make it clear to the world that this government does not torture and that we adhere to the international convention of torture, whether it be here at home or abroad". This stance, among others, led to McCain being named by Time magazine in 2006 as one of America's 10 Best Senators. McCain voted in February 2008 against a bill containing a ban on waterboarding, which provision was later narrowly passed and vetoed by Bush. However, the bill in question contained other provisions to which McCain objected, and his spokesman stated: "This wasn't a vote on waterboarding. This was a vote on applying the standards of the [Army] field manual to CIA personnel."
2008 presidential campaign
John McCain formally announced his intention to run for President of the United States on April 25, 2007 in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. He stated that: "I'm not running for President to be somebody, but to do something; to do the hard but necessary things not the easy and needless things." He also said that the United States should never fight a war without fully committing the necessary resources, unlike what initially occurred in Iraq.
McCain had fundraising problems in the first half of 2007, due in part to his support for the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007, which was unpopular among the Republican base electorate. Large-scale campaign staff downsizing took place in early July, but McCain said that he was not considering dropping out of the race. Later that month, the candidate's campaign manager and campaign chief strategist both departed. McCain slumped badly in national polls, often running third or fourth with 15 percent or less support.
The Arizona senator subsequently resumed his familiar position as a political underdog, riding the Straight Talk Express and taking advantage of free media such as debates and sponsored events. By December 2007, the Republican race was unsettled, with none of the top-tier candidates dominating the race and all of them possessing major vulnerabilities with different elements of the Republican base electorate. McCain was showing a resurgence, in particular with renewed strength in New Hampshire – the scene of his 2000 triumph – and was bolstered further by the endorsements of The Boston Globe, the Manchester Union-Leader, and almost two dozen other state newspapers, as well as from Independent Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman. McCain decided not to campaign significantly in the January 3, 2008 Iowa caucuses, which saw a win by former Governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee.
McCain's comeback plan paid off when he won the New Hampshire primary on January 8, defeating former Governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney in a close contest, to once again become one of the front-runners in the race. In mid-January, McCain placed first in the South Carolina primary, narrowly defeating Mike Huckabee. Pundits credited the third-place finisher, Tennessee's former U.S. Senator Fred Thompson, with drawing votes from Huckabee in South Carolina, thereby giving a narrow win to McCain. A week later, McCain won the Florida primary, beating Romney again in a close contest; Giuliani then dropped out and endorsed McCain.
On February 5, McCain won both the majority of states and delegates in the Super Tuesday Republican primaries, giving him a commanding lead toward the Republican nomination. Romney departed from the race on February 7. McCain's wins in the March 4 primaries clinched a majority of the delegates, and he became the presumptive Republican nominee.
If he wins the presidency, John McCain's birth (in Panama) would be the first presidential birth outside the current 50 states. A bipartisan legal review as well as a unanimous Senate resolution indicate that he is nevertheless a natural-born citizen of the United States, which is a constitutional requirement to become president, although the matter is still a subject of some legal controversy. Also, if inaugurated in 2009 at age 72 years and 144 days, he would be the oldest U.S. president upon ascension to the presidency, and the second-oldest president to be inaugurated.
McCain has addressed concerns about his age and past health concerns, stating in 2005 that his health was "excellent". He has been treated for a type of skin cancer called melanoma, and an operation in 2000 for that condition left a noticeable mark on the left side of his face. McCain's prognosis appears favorable, according to independent experts, especially because he has already survived without a recurrence for more than seven years. In May 2008, McCain's campaign let the press review his medical records, and he was described as appearing cancer-free, having a strong heart and in general good health.
Upon clinching enough delegates for the nomination, McCain's focus shifted toward the general election, while Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton fought a prolonged battle for the Democratic nomination. McCain staged a "biographical tour", introduced various policy proposals, and sought to improve his fundraising. Cindy McCain, who accounts for most of the couple's wealth with an estimated net worth of $100 million, made part of her tax returns public in May. After facing criticism about lobbyists in its midst, the McCain campaign issued new rules in May to avoid conflicts of interest, causing several top staffers to leave.
When Obama became the Democrats' presumptive nominee in early June, McCain proposed joint town hall meetings that would include audience interaction, but Obama instead requested more traditional debates for the fall. In July, a staff shake-up put Steve Schmidt in full operational control of the McCain campaign. Throughout these summer months, Obama typically led McCain in national polls by single-digit margins, and also led in several key swing states. McCain reprised his familiar underdog role, which was due at least in part to the overall challenges Republicans faced in the election year. McCain accepted public financing for the general election campaign, and the restrictions that go with it, while criticizing his Democratic opponent for becoming the first major party candidate in history to opt out of such financing. The Republican's broad campaign theme focused on his experience and ability to lead, compared to Obama's.
Alaska Governor Sarah Palin was revealed as McCain's surprise pick for vice-presidential running mate on August 29, 2008. McCain's and Palin's nominations are set to become official at the Republican Convention, from September 1 until September 4. Three presidential debates are then scheduled, for September 26, October 7, and October 15. The election is set for November 4.
Various interest groups have given Senator McCain scores or grades as to how well his votes align with the positions of each group. The American Conservative Union awarded McCain a lifetime rating of 82 percent through 2007, while McCain has an average lifetime 13 percent "Liberal Quotient" from Americans for Democratic Action through 2007.
The Almanac of American Politics rates congressional votes as liberal or conservative on the political spectrum, in three policy areas: economic, social, and foreign. For 2005–2006, McCain's average ratings were as follows: the economic rating was 59 percent conservative and 41 percent liberal, the social rating was 54 percent conservative and 38 percent liberal, and the foreign rating was 56 percent conservative and 43 percent liberal.
Columnists such as Robert Robb and Matthew Continetti have used a formulation devised by William F. Buckley, Jr. to describe McCain as "conservative" but not "a conservative", meaning that while McCain usually tends towards conservative positions, he is not "anchored by the philosophical tenets of modern American conservatism".
The two political issues that voters have been most concerned about in 2008 are the economy and Iraq. On the economy, McCain says he would make the Bush tax cuts permanent instead of letting them expire, he would eliminate the Alternative Minimum Tax so as to assist the middle-class, he would double the personal exemption for dependents, reduce the corporate tax rate, and offer a new research and development tax credit. At the same time, he pledges to eliminate pork-barrel spending, freeze nondefense discretionary spending for a year or more, and reduce Medicare growth. McCain is also opposed to high salaries and lucrative severance deals of corporate CEOs. Another proposal of the Arizona senator is to build 45 new nuclear reactors by 2030, in order to fight climate change and establish U.S. energy independence.
On Iraq, McCain's goal is that by 2013 most of the servicemen and women will have returned, the Iraq War will have been won, and Iraq will be a functioning democracy, "although still suffering from the lingering effects of decades of tyranny and centuries of sectarian tension." McCain expects that by 2013, there will still be violence, but at a much-reduced level, and without American troops in a direct combat role.
From the late 1990s until 2008, McCain was a board member of Project Vote Smart (PVS) which was set up by Richard Kimball, his 1986 Senate opponent. PVS provides non-partisan information about the political positions of McCain and other candidates for political office. Additionally, McCain uses his Senate web site, and his 2008 campaign web site, to describe his political positions.
Cultural and political image
John McCain's personal character has been a dominant feature of his public image. This image includes the military service of both himself and his family, his maverick political persona, his temper, his admitted problem of occasional ill-considered remarks, and his close ties to his children from both his marriages.
McCain's political appeal has been more nonpartisan and less ideological compared to many other national politicians. His stature and reputation stem partly from his service in the Vietnam War. He also carries physical vestiges of his war wounds, as well as his melanoma surgery. When campaigning, he quips: "I am older than dirt and have more scars than Frankenstein."
The Arizona senator considers himself to be a straight-talking public servant, and acknowledges also being impatient. Other traits include a penchant for lucky charms, a fondness for hiking, and a sense of humor that has sometimes backfired spectacularly, as when he made a joke in 1998 about the Clintons that was not fit to print in newspapers. McCain has not shied away from addressing his shortcomings, and apologizing for them. He is known for sometimes being prickly and hot-tempered with Senate colleagues, but his relations with his own Senate staff have been more cordial, and have inspired loyalty towards him.
Regarding his temper, McCain acknowledges it while also saying that the stories have been exaggerated. Having a temper is not unusual for U.S. leaders, nor is it unusual for leaders to be passionate and engaged. McCain has employed both profanity and shouting on occasion, and such incidents have become less frequent over the years. Senator Joe Lieberman has made this observation: "It is not the kind of anger that is a loss of control. He is a very controlled person." Senator Thad Cochran, who has known McCain for decades and has battled him over earmarks, has expressed concern about a McCain presidency: "He is erratic. He is hotheaded. He loses his temper and he worries me." Ultimately Cochran decided to support McCain for president, after it was clear he would win the nomination.
|Assumed office |
January 3, 1987
Serving with Jon Kyl
|Preceded by||Barry Goldwater|
|In office |
January 3, 1983 – January 3, 1987
|Preceded by||John Jacob Rhodes Jr.|
|Succeeded by||John Jacob Rhodes III|
|Born||August 29, 1936 (1936-08-29) |
Coco Solo Naval Air Station, Panama Canal Zone
|Spouse||Carol McCain (m. 1965, div. 1980) |
Cindy Hensley McCain (m. 1980)
|Children||Douglas (b. 1959), Andrew (b. 1962), Sidney (b. 1966), Meghan (b. 1984), John Sidney IV "Jack" (b. 1986), James (b. 1988), Bridget (b. 1991)|
|Alma mater||United States Naval Academy|
|Profession||Naval aviator, Politician|
|Net Worth||$40.4 million (USD)|
|Religion||Southern Baptist congregant |
(Brought up Episcopalian)